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School learning after Covid-19: Students, teachers try to move on

Marginalised people lost out during online classes; education quality suffered for all: NCERT survey

NCERT | Coronavirus | Mental health

Raghav Aggarwal  |  New Delhi 

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

As many as 51 per cent school found online learning difficult during two years of the coronavirus, said a state-backed survey last week. Suraj, 14, knows well the difficulty.

Suraj (name changed on request) returned to his school in Delhi--a joyous event he marked by celebrating his birthday along with his classmates. He cut a cake adorned with two candles reading "1" and "4", beaming as his friends cheered and congratulated him.

Birthday celebrations over, Suraj spoke about how his school’s shutdown in the pandemic affected his learning. "Attending school takes a lot of effort now. Learning has become so difficult," he said.

A report released by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) last week showed 39 per cent of school faced technical difficulties and network issues while studying. As many as 51 per cent school found online learning difficult.

The survey, titled " and Well-being of School Students", questioned 188,220 girls, 190,944 boys and 11 students from the third gender across 28 states and 8 union territories.

It found that nearly one-third of the students said they experienced emotions the survey labelled "tired", "tearful" and "lonely". As many as 42 per cent students felt "tired" in the pandemic, 32 per cent were "tearful" and 43 per cent had "mood swings".

"You can't go back to business as usual," said Wilima Wadhwa, director of the ASER Centre. ASER releases well-regarded annual reports on the status of education in rural India. The last was in November 2021, more than a year after the hit the country and shut down.

A recent ASER survey in West Bengal, Karnataka, and Chhattisgarh found that the pandemic had swept off gains of several years of school education related to reading and basic arithmetic.

Reading quality had declined in all three states, with the percentage of students who could do basic arithmetic falling below the 2014 levels.

Asked what should do now, Wadhwa said, "You will have to address the learning gaps and start from where the child is."

Marginalised groups lost most in education during the pandemic. "Children who came from a less advantaged background and who seemed to have lower learning levels to start with had far less access than children who came from a richer background," she said, "The equity gap got exacerbated during the pandemic."

Like their students, are still adjusting to the pandemic’s impact. "We are trying to juggle between two worlds," said Aarti, who teaches mathematics at a private school in Dwarka in .

"Teaching online was a new concept for us. It was very difficult to pivot into digital classrooms. Now too, when the classes are taking place offline, we never know when we may have to return to the virtual classrooms," said Aarti (name changed).

To address the gap, Wadhwa said that will have to figure out "what worked and for whom."

"If we go back to business as usual where the brief to the teacher is to follow the curriculum, then more and more kids are going to be left behind," she added.

"We know how difficult it was for people to manage phones and laptops for their children. So, we are taking things slowly," Aarti said.

Meanwhile, Suraj hopes that he has a better hold of his studies when he turns 15. "I hope the pandemic does not return, I do not want to study on my mobile phone anymore," he said as he went running to his group of friends.

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First Published: Tue, September 13 2022. 16:12 IST