After indicating that Government is contemplating the option of reduction in the syllabus and instructional hours on requests from parents and teachers, union HRD minister Pokhriyal is facing flak from experts as they feel any such step at this stage is of no use. They say any quantum of reduction would depend on when will the schools reopen and what will be the loss of school days due to closure.
“These matters are best left to curriculum design experts and I don’t think, such a proposal offers any big hope at this point,” said social activist advocate Ashok Agarwal, President of All India Parents Association. He is of the view that this year be declared as zero academic year and let children stay safe at home as parents don’t have trust in the badly exposed and inadequate healthcare system of the country. Agarwal was speaking at the Right to Education (RTE) Forum organized awebinar on “Education in the states during Covid-19: Reopening of Schools, Education Fees and Digital Learning”, on June 10.
Lashing out at the government for handing of children crisis in this pandemic, National convener Ambarish Rai said that the COVID – 19 Epidemic has caused a lot of damage to the country and children in particularly are worst sufferer of lockdown. “More than 70 percent of children will be deprived of education if we accept digital education as the new normal. The government has left them to their own circumstances. Political parties have started campaigning as if everything has normalized. The public system of education needs to be strengthened with better investment by the government. Then only can this crisis be addressed to some degree.”
Addressing the webinar, senior advocate of the Delhi High Court and Social Jurist Ashok Agarwal said that the schools should not be opened this year. Every child should be automatically promoted in the next class. Most parents are of the same opinion. Every parent wants to protect the child first, then they think of their education.
“The private schools’ operators are pressurizing the govt. to open the schools. But 80 per cent of the parents are not in favour of opening of schools in the present situation. The process of online education is complex. Children, parents and teachers, all, are facing a tough challenge. Changing the syllabus and giving digital education is being suggested by some people, which is wrong. Online education may not be a substitute of regular schooling,” he said.
However reopening of schools has its own challenges. According to Agarwal, during this unprecedented crisis of COVID-19, majority of parents are facing tough financial situation as they have either lost their jobs or have received salary cuts. In this case, how will they be able to deposit big amounts of school fees? There is a need to strengthen public education system and government schools. So far 80 per cent of the parents have not paid the fees. Around 40 percent of parents have withdrawn their children from online education because they have no means of earning. 85% of the small private schools have removed their teachers. 15% of the big private schools have earned so much that they can pay their teachers throughout the year.
Talking about Bengal, Prabir Basu, convener of West Bengal RTE Forum, said, “So far 7 lakh migrant laborers have returned to the state and about 5 lakh more are expected to return. Along with Corona, the state is also suffering from cyclone. Around 14 thousand schools have been converted into quarantine-centers. All educational institutions have been closed till 30 June. In such a situation, there is a lot of confusion about the future in the minds of children and their parents as well. Digital education is not the solution not only because of the huge digital divide existing in the country creating a further marginalisation but also because of the negative impact on students because of exposure to screen time and hinders the cognitive and socio-emotional development of the children. “
Anil Pradhan, Convenor, Odisha RTE Forum, in his address, said, “Teachers in Odisha have adopted innovative ways to reach out to children and keep them engaged in education, these can be explored as alternatives to online education Odisha Chief Minister had to appeal to private schools to waive off fees for 3 months due to COVID – 19. This is because of the pressure of Parents’ Association. Though, no private schools waived off fees so far as our knowledge is concerned. Parents’ Association has filed a PIL in the High Court in this regard.”