Covid-19 was a looming crisis that started taking shape in December 2019 and has disturbed almost every household on earth by June 2020. We have always fantasized about what would happen if the world ends, and now there is a consensus that we do not want more. Covid-19, or better known as coronavirus, is an infectious disease transmitted primarily by close contact between people, most often by small droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, and talking.
To understand more about this disease, here is Covid-19 explained by WHO: “The droplets usually fall to the ground or onto surfaces rather than travelling through air over long distances. Less commonly, people may become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their face. It is most contagious during the first three days after the onset of symptoms, although the spread is possible before symptoms appear, and from people who do not show symptoms.”
Understanding the pandemic is very important for our wellbeing, but there is an area of contention. A topic which, if our country India does not focus on, could lead to the destruction of the livelihood of many families and the future of the development. We are talking about the current educational crisis in India. The pandemic has put the country’s activities to a halt, understandably measures taken to contain the pandemic, but it has raised more questions than giving answers.
The National Commission for Protection of Children Rights (NCPCR), the primary monitoring agency of the RTE Act 2009, has seen a considerable swell in the number of complaints it has redressed before the lockdown. The NCPCR addressed around 5,000 complaints; post-outbreak (beginning March 2020), this has increased about 8-fold.
School teachers have also been impacted immensely. India’s school education system includes 10,93,166 contractual teachers at the elementary level. Delhi alone has approximately 29,000 such contractual teachers. In many states like Bihar and Delhi, these teachers were not receiving their salary for several months even before the pandemic broke out. Unfortunately, the most affected population of the education crisis are the students, the structure of schooling and learning, including teaching and assessment methodologies, was the first to be affected by the lockdown.
Only a handful of private schools could adopt online teaching methods. Their low-income private and government school counterparts, on the other hand, have completely shut down for not having access to e-learning solutions. In addition to the missed opportunities for learning, the students no longer have access to healthy meals during this time and are subject to economic and social stress.
To us, privileged folks, it may seem like nothing or just free reign, but we have to understand the long-term consequences of such events. It is a straightforward rejection from society for children from lower economic backgrounds to provide them with a quality education. It should also be considered that it is extremely difficult for impoverished students and their families to realize the pandemic’s true extent, and it is incredibly essential to educate them about the situation they are facing. We don’t even know the extent of challenges faced by them daily regarding school, admissions, understanding culture, and the current scenario.
The following is a transcript (translated from Hindi) from a conversation with a youth leader of a community in Lucknow, who has just completed her class 12th and will help us understand the situation on the ground:
Author: Hello, I am Ritwik Khurana. I came to know about you from the YES foundation, I’m working in association with them, how are you doing these days and can you please state your name and age.
Shanti: Hello, my name is Shanti Sugamau. I am 22 years old. I am fine right now, doing better than before, getting used to the pandemic. I have worked as a youth leader with the YES foundation previously.
Author: I’m happy that you are well. I have come to know that you have just passed your board exams for class 12th, how has your experience been. What were your favourite subjects, have you started applying for your undergraduate studies?
Shanti: Yes, I passed my board exams of class 12th in march of this year. It was an average experience, but I feel I have a very low percentage, and no college will accept me at this point. I have a back paper in economics and have to give a re-exam. My favourite subjects are history and Hindi, but I fail to understand the subjects math and economics, as there is nobody to teach them properly.
I have been sick continuously from October 2019 to March 2020, from 2019, I had dengue for 2-3 months and intermittently suffered from jaundice and liver infections. My sickness had severely hampered my ability to study and function. The doctor diagnosed me, and 1.5 lakh rupees were spent from home for my treatment, and those 4-8 bottles of glucose. I had weakness in my body and kept vomiting; I had a lot of liquids to improve my health. The doctor said that eating medicines can be risky and can lead to death. Right now, all the colleges are closed, so I have not applied.
Author: Shanti I truly understand your position, it has been a difficult journey for you, I wanted to know if you were tested for Covid-19, during and after the length of your sickness. If you don’t mind, can you please tell me what the occupation of your family is and how many members are there?
Shanti: Yes, I have been tested before for Covid-19 and also have been tested recently by a doctor, thankfully I’m healthy now. My father works as an electric worker, people call him home, as he goes and fixes ACs and other home appliances for them. But in the few months, between work has been slow, but in June he has started working as people can’t live without their home appliances. I have distributed rations at schools for the pandemic, in association with the YES Foundation.
Currently, I’m holding up a job, and I can earn up to Rs. 2,000, money is few and far between, as one has to feed their family who is sitting at home. My family consists of 6 people, my mother and father, my three brothers (from ages 18,12,10), and me, respectively.
Author: Thank you so much, Shanti, for sharing your perspective. I am extremely grateful that you took the time to explain your experience to me, so I can share the current ground reality with others. I wish you all the best and hope you achieve all your goals in the future.
Shanti: Thank you for listening to me.
( Note: The following interview was done with the consent of the youth worker. Also, keeping in mind the pandemic, the interview was conducted over a phone call.)
There is not one, but many Shantis in India who work extremely hard to sustain and earn a living. From the above case study, we can conclude that our country’s perceived economic divide is blurred. The best example is the estimates of the commission for people Below Poverty Line that lives with the assumption that people with the daily consumption of more than Rs 28.65 in cities and Rs 22.42 in rural areas are not poor.
These numbers are absurd for a sensible person and do not match the cost of living in the 21st century. In conclusion, the message this article should convey to readers is about our role in society. The positive difference in the environment is caused by the people who reside in it. If our youth raises their voice for change, we can collectively raise awareness on the living conditions of a major population below the poverty line, loss of jobs, and poor living conditions of many.
This can be done without violence, unnecessary commotions, through our biggest weapon, social media. Never underestimate its power, we don’t need a martyr similar to George Floyd Jr. So let’s become proactive and not be oblivious to this harsh reality.