A year ago, when we were just beginning to understand the impact of Corona and lockdowns on our lives, my colleagues and I had a brainstorming, and jotted down what we saw as the impacts of these on school-age children. These included:
- Loss in educational achievements due to long break
- Increasing inequity in educational inputs– limited access of Govt School children to e-learning
- Challenges in parental support to facilitate learning at home
- Inadequate interaction with other children /adult
- Difficulties in adjusting to new teaching methods/ technologies/ new curriculu
- Inadequate educational inputs, resources
- No exposure to outdoors, play, co-curricular activities
- No outlet for energy
- Less structure, discipline
- Lower nutrition due to disruptions to mid-day meals
- Challenges to govt. school infra of social distancing norms, sanitation, water
- Pressure on Govt. Schools due to reverse migration, and shifting from private to govt. schools due to fall in income.
- Timely availability of textbooks, coping with new timelines
- Pressure of change in Academic year, exam patterns
- Increased dropouts for various reasons, increase in child labour, child marriages etc.
- Fear, anxiety
- Parents stressed with loss of incomes, confinement etc.
- Lowered access to healthcare.
In the year that we have gone through, not many satisfactory responses to these challenges have been found.
The pandemic is forcing us to focus on the short term, on questions like:
To open schools, or not to open schools?
To start classes, or not to start classes?
To conduct exams, or not to conduct exams?
But the responsibility of policy-makers is to go beyond, and think about the future shape of education, and to re-imagine it for the new world. This is where the UNESCO titled ‘Education in a post-COVID world: Nine ideas for public action’ will be useful. While it not a kunji to give short answers to profoundly important questions about the future of education, it does give some useful frameworks to think about these questions. The nine ideas it propounds are:
‘1. Commit to strengthen education as a common good. Education is a bulwark against inequalities.
2. Expand the definition of the right to education so that it addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information.
3. Value the teaching profession and teacher collaboration. Encourage conditions that give frontline educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively.
4. Promote student, youth and children’s participation and rights. Prioritize the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.
5. Protect the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education. The school as a physical space is indispensable. Traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’ but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning must be preserved.
6. Make free and open source technologies available to teachers and students. Education cannot thrive with ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students. Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.
7. Ensure scientific literacy within the curriculum.
8. Protect domestic and international financing of public education. The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances.
9. Advance global solidarity to end current levels of inequality.’
The world has changed. Crisis has to be turned to opportunity. We have to start to re-imagine the Future of Education–now.