Why is there no decision yet on the reopening of schools? A group of students, teachers and parents appealing at Azad Maidan Panaji that physical classes be opened paints a very sorry picture. The protest should be a wake-up call to authorities that have gone into a slumber and have remained insensitive to the impact of online learning on the mental health of students.
The delay in deciding on schools is baffling since there is an all-clear given to almost all other sectors, including tourism and the entertainment industry which were badly hit. The majority of the schools across India have reopened. Maharashtra, which was at the epicentre of the second wave, announced the resumption of classes from 5 to 12. Karnataka is scheduled to reopen its primary classes after Dussehra. There are positive signs in the airline industry too with the Civil Aviation Ministry issuing an order allowing domestic airlines to operate flights without any capacity restrictions.
Goa, which is in the midst of an intense political campaign, appears to have lost focus on education, an area that should have been a priority given the adverse impact the online education system had on students and teachers. The Covid situation has eased off significantly, and fears of a third wave have receded. Recently the Dean of Goa Medical College Shivanand Bandekar cited findings of a seropositivity study that said that nearly 70 per cent of the children in the State have already got infected with Coronavirus and recovered.
While the entire State has returned to near-normalcy, there is still no word on offline schooling with the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant only giving a vague indication of classes of 9th to 12th resuming post-Diwali vacations. The psychological impact and the mental health of students during the 18 months where there was no peer-to-peer learning have been ignored. Also forgotten is the fact that ‘social learning’ has failed. Online teaching has wreaked havoc on the minds of students and the teaching community. The focus has been shifted from classrooms to exposing students to extended screen time.
The prolonged closure of schools and the impact on children is well documented. Every month away from school results is a learning loss of two months, stated a UNESCO report. This means that the last 18 months of closure has put students back by 36 months. In terms of financial loss, an Asian Development Bank analysis equates a year’s loss of schooling to 9.7% less earning in the future.
Leave alone the statistics, the bottom line is that the longer the delay, the greater will be the pressure on students to cope up. With almost five months lost this year, students will face an uphill task, especially those facing board exams. There is still no clarity on adjustments to curriculum and the criteria of assessment. Lest we forget, the law of averages followed last year threw up many surprises with hardworking and meritorious students left disappointed and their careers jeopardized. No student will want a similar situation this year. We only hope that better sense prevails.