The whole world is suffering from the effects of COVID-19. The ongoing pandemic has left people in distress and we all have become victim to it, in one or the other way. Some of us have lost our jobs, our businesses, our incomes, and others have lost their dear ones. Some of us have become a part of a huge exodus, towards our homes, where we assume to spend our time with peace and a little more security, but, there’s a huge chunk of this mass exodus who have suffered innumerable pain throughout the past three months.
They are not fleeing to find a place of peace and security; rather this exodus is an attempt to leave their misery, disappointment, and shattered dreams behind. They are not hoping to gain peace or security on their destination but to look forward to having a place with lesser insecurity and a place where their lives would hold value and people who would care about them. This includes the section of our society who we call ‘migrants’.
Migrants are the ones who have spent their lives in different cities and towns in search of work, with a dream to have a better livelihood and a future, a place where they assumed they would not have to deal with the scarcity of their basic needs. A place where they might get accepted and would earn to make their living better. However, a lot of these hopes and dreams have shattered amidst the ongoing lock-down.
This pandemic has left a severe emotional and psychological trauma on their mental health. The economy is shut, businesses are closed and hence, the hope for an income or a future job availability has become next to nil. These migrants are mostly daily-wage earners. Now, with no source of income, no food on the plate, limited aid from the government, unsympathetic attitude by the authorities and no one to reach out to, they have started moving back to their native places.
But are they moving alone? NO! They are moving away with their families, their children. These children who were once enrolled in schools of different cities whether in government or low – income private schools. But now they are going back to their native villages, which is the best option for them looking at the current situation, However, what about their schooling? What beholds in front of them in terms of their education?
The effect of lockdown has been so drastic on the migrants that many of them don’t want to return to the cities, in the fear that the lockdown might continue for a much longer period or such a situation might arise again in the future. This is the psychological effect that a pandemic or any sort of disaster leaves on the psyche of people. The consequence of this would be drastic dropout rates of the children from the education system leading to extremely long term problems in terms of illiteracy and unemployment.
This is not the only problem that the education system in India has to face due to the pandemic. Several debates and discussions have been in place since the lockdown began, about, how and when the schools will start? How this time can be made productive for students and hence, the concept of online learning came into limelight. Well, it’s an innovative and appropriate approach keeping in mind the required social distancing in the times of pandemic, but how many studentscan afford this kind of learning?
According to the data of 2019 by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the internet penetration of India is just 36%. Hence the question that arises is how many such students will be able to access this approach? Another problem which could arise in the drawback of a pandemic is that even when the school re-opens again (whenever it may be), how many families will be able to afford the education of their children?
This argument especially holds ground for the urban-poor population of India. The urban-poor, who lives on daily-wages, have minimal saving and big expenses along with their zero income for the past three months. How will these families be able to afford the expenses of the new academic session? It will be especially critical for the children, who need to transition from government schools (from free primary and middle school education) to low-income private schools. The average fees of low-income private schools come average between 8-12k per year, depending on the city.
For the people who have lost all that they had during lockdown to fulfil their basic needs, it will be very difficult for them to gather such an amount for their children’s education. Looking at the economic degradation due to the pandemic, people might be forced to send their children for work to earn an additional income, no matter how minimal it would be. Does this mean that we might face a surge of child labour in India?
Also, the question comes about the children who are moving back to villages with their families. The school system of villages in India is in ruins, how and what kind of education will they be able to attain in such schools?
The short term consequences of all this would be higher drop-out rates in the schools, the movement of children from private schools towards government schools. But do our government schools have the capacity to accommodate this kind of influx of students in the system? Looking at the scarce human resource and poor infrastructure of the government schools across the states, the possibility seems dim and dire.
To mediate the situation, the government needs to take effective steps at the policy level to ease out the fee structure across schools. We need a drastic revamping of the right to education act and should consider its extension looking at the immediate need of the hour. Also, the government should work with private organizations and non-profits that work in the field of education to extend greater support to the communities who need it.
The government can also plan on initiating more vocational programs as an alternative medium to attain required skillset and education.
The problem is huge and immediate and special attention should be given in resolving these issues. If not, the present reality could have a long-lasting effect on the future workforce of the country. Effective measures are required to save the education system in the country or else it would collapse leading to a huge void of an educated and rather skilled workforce in the future.