Nearly four million students transferred to public schools in 2020-21, according to the Union Department of Education’s Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE+) report. The report shows that most of the drop in enrollment from pre-primary to grade 12 was seen in the early grades (pre-primary and first grade enrollment fell by 2.9 million and 1.9 million respectively) and that nearly 75% of schools had no internet facilities and 59% had no computer facilities.
When read in conjunction with the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey and field studies by Azim Premji University, it becomes clear that the financial distress precipitated by the pandemic, the inability of many schools to deliver courses online and the migration caused by the closures have ravaged the education sector. Before Covid, stakeholders were concerned about what they called a “learning crisis”. This has been exacerbated by Covid, but the UDISE+ data sheds light on what can be done.
On the one hand, invest in public schools, in terms of teachers and infrastructure such as computers and internet connectivity. It also means a different mode of training for teachers and the development of teaching materials that can be used for online courses. Many parents may not yet be able to afford to enroll their children in pre-primary classes. These children must be identified and brought back to the classrooms. A significant challenge is the loss of learning due to the pandemic and the prolonged closure of schools. As schools have now reopened, the focus should be on reversing learning loss and ensuring that any future spikes in infection do not harm learning levels in the same way.
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