This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Tanvy Sharma. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

While Online Learning Has It’s Drawbacks, Could It Be Used To Improve Education?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

On 23 March, 2020, a nationwide lockdown was instituted to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 in India. At one stroke, almost in a baptism by fire, all educational institutions were closed and so, more than 1.2 billion children around the world were abruptly out of school. Schools and universities were pushed into conceding to online learning for as good as 90% of the world’s students.

Even in India, the government initially invested in coherent plans for fleshing out digital learning. To rectify the threat of potential learning loss for schoolgoers, online resources were made available on a spectrum of platforms; like for remote areas, educational programmes were broadcasted through television and radio.

girl students in class
Representative Image. (Source: fickr)

However, this has not been sufficient. By the end of June 2021, there existed alarming duality among children: they were either attending virtual classes or operated in a vacuum.

An overwhelming number of students have no access to even instruments necessary to access digital learning. For them, the year of COVID-19 has been nothing but a void.

A crushing majority of schoolgoers in India are either first-generation learners or come from homes that are unable to afford the required backing for even self-study. As a result, they are falling behind largely out of school and education, presenting a critical challenge to India—the future home to the largest under-18 population by the end of the decade.

The Need Urgency Of The Status Quo

About 0.32 billion students in India have been affected by school shutdown in the pandemic, as per UNESCO (2020). Of these, a sizable 84% live in rural areas where almost 70% go to government schools. By 2015, the average dropout rate across secondary schools in India was 17.06%, with relatively higher proportions for rural areas.

This is alarming, as past evidence suggests that short-term disruptions in schooling often lead to permanent dropouts among the poor.

All the more, the temporary halt of mid-day meals and supplementary nutrition programs in the lockdown and subsequent school closures has exacerbated the “household food insecurity gap”. This has had spill-over effects such as exposing children to multi-layered vulnerabilities, including gender inequalities, confirmed by increased reports of child marriage and child trafficking during the pandemic.

Besides, with the increasing expenses and fewer earning opportunities for the migrants and the rural population, children are pushed into the labour market as a substitute.

Moreover, the current medium of schooling fails to guarantee that students are growing holistically while staying indoors. Attendance in virtual mode is given more importance than conceptual assessment, that it may even be counterproductive to push for longer periods of screen time even if they are provided with required digital resources.

Thus, putting the overall learning outcomes to question. Moreover, investment in digital inputs will only result in significantly higher returns if the broader environment is amenable to their successful use. Such variables can only be regulated and verified in the physical platform.

Representative Image.

In view of their mental health, protracted confinement is becoming more difficult for children to adjust to the new normal. If this continues, the ongoing pandemic may mount negative feelings of loneliness, insecurity and anxiety due to no social contact.

While many teachers institute tutorial sessions to engage with students, it still remains impersonal and unidirectional. What they need is an informal ambience of learning of psychosocial empowerment than the prevailing stressful formal, didactic format of learning.

Epidemiological Concerns Of The Surging Third Wave

The COVID-19 pandemic is notable for the fact that children account for fewer than 2% of overall COVID-19 cases, with most cases resulting in only mild sickness. Furthermore, even when children with co-morbidities were found to be at risk of developing a serious illness, fatality was extremely infrequent.

In addition to “silent” infections, it was shown that the majority of infections were acquired through close contact with adults in family clusters. Transmission from children to others, on the other hand, was uncommon. In another instance, despite having had long close contact with her two-year-old SARS-CoV-2 infected child, the mother was confirmed to be uninfected.

Recently, people are anxious about the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic and children being the prime targets of it. This is because until now, only the above 18 population were allowed to be vaccinated. However, contrary to these rumours, the Indian Council of Medical Research notes that children’s immune systems are more primed and have fewer chemical receptors that facilitate virus entrance.

As a result, the transmission dynamics and indisposition of the COVID-19 in children are so distinctive that calibrated early reopening is indicated.

Looking At The Post-COVID-19 Pedagogy

Representative Image.

Besides getting ready for the physical mode, pedagogical methods in digital content could focus more on outcome-based learning. This entails enhancing the scope of online learning as an alternative to classroom learning and creatively incorporating both, such as developing the next generation of flipped classrooms.

This would be an essential step even after the crisis. The government’s Production-Linked Incentive Scheme could help in funding for the same. For several years, we have been tinkering around the edges with online learning, knowing that the education models in the status quo were inadequate. It is a pivotal time when we can reinvent teaching to bring about long-term morphs in the pedagogical structure.

Furthermore, the digital gap has generated new disparities that are likely to affect children’s life prospects. In this aspect, secure support mechanisms can be fostered and given impetus to create an ecosystem—to provide digital access to online learning for all children, thereby bridging the rural-urban gap.

For this reason, the government’s prime focus should be on making its Bharat Net and Wi-Fi Access Network Interface up and running across the nation.

Rather than just seeing our current situation as a temporary inconvenience that we should attempt to put behind as quickly as possible in the hope to go back to a more comfortable pre-crisis past, we should explore how we might utilise this time to advance long-overdue improvements.

Let’s get started by reopening schools, resuming children’s education and making up for the lost time. With the right policies, we can succeed in both effective education and prevention of coronavirus.

Created by Tanvy Sharma

What do you think? Should schools be reopened?
You must be to comment.
  1. Jagmohan 🇮🇳

    Kudos…comprehensive

  2. Shambhavi

    The writer has tried to cover the topic very comprehensively! Online education is inherently exclusive. Despite having all the devices and the internet available, there is still no 100% guarantee of its efficiency. Can’t even imagine what people from the underprivileged strata have to go through! However any action to reopen schools and colleges has only resulted in the students being infected. Imo, the vaccination needs to ramp up, shortages of vaccines at government sites is definitely an obstruction to the opening of schools and colleges.

  3. Arsh Kaur

    A fresh perspective! really need to use this time to change the stagnant curriculum.

  4. Juliet Mike

    Well Writen!! A compendious write up.👏👏

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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