I have been working in the development sector for a long time. I used to go to villages quite often because of my job profile. During the lockdown, I was working from home. Due to this reason, I could not visit the villages which I used to, to interact with the people from the local communities.
Finally, I was able to visit the countryside after the lockdown restrictions were lifted. As I entered a village, I saw a boy of school-going age selling vegetables with his father.
I asked him about his son’s education. He replied,“School toh chal nahi rahe, kam se kam ghar toh chale (school is not functional so I am focusing on running my household).” I stood silently for a long time and many thoughts started popping up in my mind.
I was terrified to think of just how many school-going children are forced to turn away from education, like this boy.
Education helps one bring about a positive change in the socioeconomic life of a people. Education helps one draw a road map of towards individual development as well as the development of one’s family, village, nation and the global community.
Keeping this in mind, many intellectuals devoted their entire life to lighting the lamp of education among the oppressed sections of the society. We can’t forget the contribution of women leaders like Savitribai Phule and Fatima Sheikh, who devoted their entire lives to establish the importance of education.
The inclusion of education as an important goal in the total framework of sustainable development goals (SDG) 2030 is a commendable step. SDG 4 ensures inclusive and equitable education. It promotes providing everyone with learning opportunities lifelong.
SDG 4 emphasizes free and quality education for girls and boys, at the primary and secondary level, by 2030. The pandemic has significantly affected the agenda of the SDGs across the world. Most educational institutions, including Indian ones, remained shut to prevent the spread of the virus.
Gradually, the number of children dropping out of the formal education system increased. We were already struggling with the issue of dropout to begin with. However, after Covid -19 hit, the situation became worse than ever.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), children aged 6-10 have acutely dropped out of school due to the pandemic. ASER indicated that in 2020, around 5.3% of children were out of school.
It also raises concerns around the online mode of education, because of limited access to smartphones and internet connectivity for people living below the poverty line.
Increasing job loss and salary cuts were also major reasons that affected education. If we analyze the current situation with a gender lens, it reveals a deep-rooted gender disparity with respect to digital access.
A common misconception about girls using smartphones is that they will use it to elope with someone.
A recent report released by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a wake-up call, not just for India, but for the entire world. The findings provide glimpses into the dangerous future that lies ahead for children.
They released a report on the status of child labour worldwide. According to the findings, for the first time in two decades, there has been a significant rise in the number of children aged 5-11, engaged in child labour.
The report also points out that at the beginning of 2020, 16 crore children were being exploited as child labourers, but the number has risen in the aftermath of the pandemic.
The report reveals that if the minimum estimates of poverty increase, then 90 lakh children would be trapped as child labourers. In the villages, one can see children under the age of 18 engaging in child labour, to assist their families.
The fact that many children are working in the agriculture sector, is a huge concern for the global community.
The ILO and the UNICEF’s report raises serious questions the need to be taken into account for the achieving of SDG 4. The pandemic has already created a chasm between education and children. It has forced the global community to take note of the bigger picture.
There is a strong need to come up with multiple, prompt solutions to cope with this situation. On the one hand, we have to deal with pandemic. On the other hand, we have to ensure the social security of every child is inviolable. We can’t see this situation in isolation because it is an intersectional issue.
A country must dream of a future where child has books in their hand, and not the burden of child labour on their small shoulders. Only then can we provide wings to the flight of the SDG.