Teachers will have to be extraordinary empathetic and put themselves in the shoes of the students
A Boston Consulting Group Study on prolonged school closure revealed that the effectiveness and penetration of efforts made towards online education have remained ‘‘woefully inadequate’’ across the country with 40%-70% students not having devices at home. The study also reported that 80% teachers expressed “impossibility” of maintaining an emotional connection with the students and 90% of teachers found it impossible to assess students online. Regarding mental health, the study revealed that 1/3rd of Primary School students and half of Secondary School students suffered from mental health issues.
On learning losses, Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, said, “The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable. And the potential increase of Learning Poverty might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings and wellbeing for this generation of children and youth, their families and the world economies.” Research says that loss of 1 year’s schooling is approximately equal to 9% lower future earnings.
The UNICEF in its report on International Education Day (24 January 2022) presented a disturbing picture of the effect of the pandemic on education globally. Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Chief of Education, said, “In March, we will mark two years of COVID-19-related disruptions to global education. Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling.” The statistics presented in the report demand what Jerkins called “intensive support” to enable the students to recover the lost education. To this end Jerkin says, “Students need intensive support to recover lost education. Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition.”
In the Economic Survey of India 2021-22 it was pointed out that the pandemic led to increased digital divide between the haves and have-nots. Children from poorer sections faced issues such as unavailability of smartphones or network or connectivity issues. The ASER 2021 report also found that during the pandemic, children (age 6-14 years) not currently enrolled in schools increased from 2.5 per cent in 2018 to 4.6 per cent in 2021.
The “insurmountable loss” as termed in the UNICEF report can hardly be recovered without taking drastic steps. Today, despite the Omicron variant, schools are open in the majority of countries, and are being opened in many parts of India supported by health and safety protocols and vaccination programmes. The costs of keeping schools shut are tremendous in terms of learning losses, health and well-being, and drop-outs. Prioritising education as a public good is crucial to avoid a generational catastrophe and to drive a sustainable recovery. To prevent further loss and mitigate the learning crisis, opening of schools should be given top priority. The UNICEF chief has said that closing schools should be “the measure of last resort.”
Education, being a cumulative process, ought to keep pace with time and the failure of the same results in serious and lasting repercussions. Loss of 2 to 3 complete academic years due to closure of schools has, as reflected above in the reports, researches and studies, manifested itself in terms of widened learning loss, serious effects on the mental health of children, increased dropout rates, reduced access to regular sources of nutrition, increased risk of child abuse, and increased divide between haves and have-nots. Schooling is not all about teaching but involves the holistic development of children. The culture of schooling disciplines students, ensures their physical, mental, social and ethical development.
Since with every passing day the severity of the pandemic seems to be declining and chances of opening schools all over the country are getting momentum, It is hoped that in the UT of J&K, too, the authorities will seriously consider the reopening of schools at the earliest. When the schools are formally thrown open, all the stakeholders, in general, and teachers, in particular, have to ensure intensive efforts are put in place for filling up the learning gaps. The onus of recuperating the learning loss and addressing the increased levels of anxiety and depression among children lies on teachers. Considering their crucial role, teachers have to be exceptionally resilient, skilled and professional. To tackle the job and deal with new challenges, this author, being a teacher by profession, considers it as a moral responsibility to put forth a few suggestions for teachers:
• As we have prescribed learning outcomes for set grades, achievement of the same in the appropriate grade sets the pace of education. Failure of attainment of particular learning outcomes in the set grades goes on increasing the learning gaps, exponentially. Teachers need to identify the learning outcomes that need to be achieved, necessarily, in order to enable the students to grasp the concepts that make them fit for the grades they are actually in. For this very purpose, teachers, on their own, should plan a remedial plan in their particular subjects and for their particular grades. In this process teachers should not to get disappointed with dismal performance, lower responses, or lack of motivation among the students, as the same are inevitable on account of closure of schools for a long time.
• As the students are going through a crisis, the management of the same can be ensured only by the teachers. The teachers will definitely have to be extraordinary empathetic and put themselves in the shoes of the students. The teachers on one hand have to be extraordinary accommodative and on the other hand they have to adapt such strategies and pedagogical skills that will ensure recovery of what has been lost. Moreover, mood swings and behavioural changes in the students, after such a long gap, are not unexpected. While dealing with the same and streamlining the behaviour of students, teachers have to be exceptionally patient, accommodative and empathetic.
• The level of confidence that a student has plays a vital role in his/her performance. Being away from formal schooling for a long time, the confidence levels of most of the students might be at its lowest ebb. Teachers need to celebrate even the tiniest achievements of the students, show off their work, and try their level best to help students regain their lost confidence. Regaining of the desired level of confidence among the students should be prioritised over the recovery of what remains to be learnt, because self confidence in students can enable them to get back to normal vis-à-vis future progression and regaining. So, the responsibility of boosting the confidence and regaining the self-esteem of the students lies with the teachers.
• Rather than content based teaching and rote memorisation of concepts, teachers in present circumstances should focus on competency based teaching. Joyful methods of teaching need to be given more and more space. Extracurricular activities, games and sports should necessarily be given due time and importance in school activities because these play fundamental role in all-round development of the students, besides boosting their interest and motivational level to attend the school.
• Individualized Education Plans (IEP), although specifically meant for special children, should be made for those students who struggle to regain the learning loss and find it very difficult to adjust themselves in their present grades.
Taking the scenario and the humble suggestions put forth into consideration, teachers should realise that disruptions to education due to Covid-19 pandemic and recovery thereof has put great responsibility on their shoulders. They are supposed to prove their mettle, in real terms, and consider themselves as the saviours of the generation that is at the verge of regression.