We are undoubtedly in the midst of a massive educational crisis as a result of the COVID -19 pandemic. One of the most serious threats is to global education in history, with over 1.6 billion children and youth out of school in 161 countries. School closures, limited access to virtual learning, and economic insecurity have slowed down the progress in keeping children in poorer countries educated. As the impact of COVID-19 on education and learning worsens over time, DR. GYAN PATHAK emphasises the importance of reopening schools, as well as taking adequate steps to make up for learning losses and ensure children’s safety for governments all over the world.
OVER 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of the world’s students are still affected by partial or full school shutdown, and the health crisis will end up causing over 100 million additional children to slip under the minimum reading proficiency level. The anguish that children and teenagers experience as a consequence of missing school may never be recovered. That is why reopening schools cannot be delayed, but how to do so is equally important.t.
“This should not go on. Schools should be the last to close and first to reopen,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore and UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said in a joint statement just before UNESCO’s Global Education meeting on the margins of the annual UN High-Level Political Forum for Sustainable Development held recently.
On this occasion, a survey conducted by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the OECD was also released, highlighting the risks of not reopening schools.
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The implementation of remedial measures to combat learning losses
According to the survey, approximately one-third of countries have not yet implemented remedial programmes to assist students in catching up on their learning. Only one-third of the 143 countries surveyed, advanced countries, are taking steps to measure learning losses at the primary and lower-secondary levels, even though measuring learning loss is a critical first step toward mitigating its consequences.
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Why did the government choose to close educational institutions unnecessarily while keeping bars and diners open?
The joint statement issued ahead of the meeting proposed that the government have too frequently closed educational institutions in their efforts to curb COVID-19 transmission, and have kept them shut for extended periods even when the epidemiological situation did not warrant it. These decisions were frequently used as a first option rather than as a last resort.
Surprisingly schools were often shut while bars and restaurants remained open.
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School closure’s effect on learning, child and family well-being during the pandemic
It was noted that children’s academic achievement and societal engagement, as well as physical and mental health, would suffer the consequences of learning loss, mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, missed school-based meals and vaccinations, or reduced development of social skills.
Children in low-resource conditions, do not have an access to remote learning tools. Young children, who are at critical developmental stages, are frequently the most affected, whereas losses for parents and caregivers are equally severe.
Keeping children at home forces parents all over the world to work longer hours or quit their jobs, especially in countries with no or limited family leave policies. That is why reopening schools for in-person learning cannot be put off any longer.
The reopening of educational institutions cannot be delayed until all cases have been dealt with. There is ample evidence that primary and secondary schools are not the primary sources of transmission. In addition, the statement argued that transmission in schools is manageable in most situations. Schools cannot reopen until all teachers and students have been vaccinated.
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Diverse learning methodology implementations that are used all over the world to combat learning losses
According to the survey, fewer than a third of low and middle-income countries indicated that all students had returned to in-person schooling, increasing the risk of learning loss and dropouts. By 2020, all four levels of education in the world’s schools would be completely closed.
As of February 1, 2021, 21 per cent of countries were completely closed, but none were low-income countries. Most countries chose to respond to the closure by implementing a variety of learning methodologies, such as fully remote or hybrid learning, as well as other measures to mitigate potential learning losses. 41 per cent of countries reported extending the academic year, and 42 per cent favoured specific curriculum areas or skills. However, more than half of the countries reported that no changes had been or would be made.
According to preliminary evidence, students impacted by school closures are enduring an absolute reduction in learning levels or slower progress than would be expected in a typical year. Given the unequal distribution of opportunities for remote learning, such an impact may disproportionately affect disadvantaged children.
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Conduction of exams in the midst of a pandemic and its global reception
The pandemic had an impact on examinations at all levels across all countries. In low and lower-middle-income countries, two out of every three primary and three out of every four lower secondary examinations were rescheduled or postponed, compared to four out of every ten in upper-middle and high-income countries.
Globally, 28 per cent of lower secondary countries and 18% of upper secondary countries cancelled exams, but no low-income countries cancelled exams at either level. Seven out of ten countries aimed at improving health and safety standards at upper secondary examination centres.
One in four countries adjusted the examination content at the primary and lower secondary levels, and one in three at the upper secondary level, altered the number of subjects examined or questions asked. High-income countries adjusted the mode of administration in lower and upper secondary education by 35 per cent, but no low-income countries followed the same. Finally, graduation criteria were adjusted in 34 per cent of countries at the primary level and 47% at the upper secondary level.
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The effect of a school lockdown on the learning curve, as well as the impact on the social and cultural disparities
Many children are at risk of returning to school without having properly subsumed the course content required for their grades as a result of lower levels of learning during school closures.
Remedial education will be needed in such cases to get children back on track. When primary and secondary schools reopened, two-thirds of countries reported that remedial measures were put in place.
Governments encountered several challenges as they transitioned into distance learning, including the confined institutional capacity to assist learning, limited access for vulnerable members of society, and a lack of consistent policies and funding to support remote learning.
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What lies ahead after reopening of the schools?
In such circumstances, especially if the pandemic is still ongoing, reopening schools presents a slew of challenges, including health, financing, and the development of initiatives to ensure that all students return safely. Minimising disease transmission in schools necessitates a variety of health measures. Schools can only implement some of these, and others will require assistance in terms of investment and other facilities.
However, merely reopening the school gates is grossly inadequate. Even after schools reopen, some students, notably the most vulnerable sections of society or girls, could choose not to return. This is disturbing since adolescent girls are at the highest risk of dropping out of school in low and lower-middle-income countries.
Reopening schools should therefore be a key focus for all countries, but it will necessitate meticulous planning both before and after schools reopen. As schools reopen and the transition to the ‘new normal’ begins, education cannot return to ‘business as usual’. Students will require tailored and continuous guidance as they readjust and catch up. (IPA Service)