By Sujata Jena
Bhubaneswar, Odisha: The protracted lockdown and closure of schools have adversely affected the education of Dalit and Tribal students in rural areas, a study reveals.
A discussion on the impact of prolonged school closure and sharing of the survey report, ‘Locked Out’, was held at National Social Work and Social Science (NISWASS), Bhubaneswar, October 19.
As many as 45 activists and intellectuals from different fields participated in the discussion.
The emergency study on education was led by a team of professors—Jean Drezee and Reetika Khera.
Economist Khera presented some major findings of the study.
According to her, “Only 4% of rural Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST) children are studying online regularly, compared with 15% among other rural children.
“Barely half of them were able to read more than a few letters in the reading test. Among rural SC/ST parents, a full 98% wanted schools to reopen as soon as possible, Khera said.
She added, “When we asked whether they wanted schools to reopen, most of them felt that the answer was self-evident. As one startled mother put it, “yah poonchne wali baat hai?” (Do you need to ask this question?).
“In rural areas, only 28% of children were studying regularly at the time of the survey, and 37% were not studying at all. The results of a simple reading test are particularly alarming: nearly half of all children in the sample were unable to read more than a few words,” the survey revealed.
One reason for this, Khera said, was that many households had no access to smartphones.
“Even among households with a smartphone, the proportion of children who are studying online regularly is just 31% in urban areas and 15% in rural areas.
The study reveals, in rural areas, only 8% of sample children are studying online regularly, 37% are not studying at all, and about half are unable to read more than a few words.
The survey found, “illiteracy rate” in the 10-14 age group among rural SC/ST households in the school sample (39%) is more than four times as high as the average for all children aged 10-14 in the school states ten years ago (9%).” It adds such are the combined effects of chronic inequality and a lopsided lockout
Midday meals have been discontinued in all the sample states with the closure of schools. Among parents with a child enrolled in a government school, about 80% reported receiving some food (mainly rice or wheat) during the preceding three months as a substitute for their child’s midday meals.
Other issues of online access are “poor connectivity and lack of money for “data”.
As many as 57% of urban children and 65% of rural children in the sample reported “connectivity problems in online classes. Many found it difficult to follow online material with 46% of the urban sample and 43% of the rural sample reporting this issue.”
The survey conducted in 15 states and Union Territories in August has shown that 97% of parents of underprivileged children in rural India want schools to reopen as soon as possible.
The other speakers at the discussion were Anil Pradhan, convener of Right to Education Forum Odisha, Sudatta Khuntia of ActionAid, Chittta Ranjan Panigrahi, deputy director, Directorate of Elementary Education and Ramesh Sahu.
K Ranamaa and Sipranath Sharma Bhubaneswar Basti (slum) were invited to share their experiences.
They spoke about the pathetic conditions of the children of 436 slums of Bhubaneswar.
“In situations as such non-government organizations do come out to help us but not the government. The government is not thinking of our children’s future,”
The Right to Education forum along with Right to Food Odisha has put up the following demands at the regional and local governments.
Schools should be the last to close and first to reopen, as said by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
Reopening of schools is to be ensured, while opening schools, the decision-making should be decentralized so the local administration can facilitate it as the situation requires.
The learning loss of the children must be covered with extra effort.
The online mode of education should be stopped immediately as it is neither free nor compulsory, which is against a vision of the Right to Education for children aged from 6 to 14.
The October 19 meeting was organized by Anil Pradhan, convener, Right to Education Odisha, and Sameet Panda, co-convener of Right to Food Campaign Odisha.