At least 80% of students aged between 14 and 18 years reported lower levels of learning at home during the Covid-19 pandemic compared to when they attended classes in schools, a survey conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) across six states revealed.
The survey report released on Thursday also warned that approximately 8% of children are not likely to return to schools in the future.
“Most parents and adolescents feel that students learn less through remote learning than they would in school. 76% of parents of students aged 5-13 years and 80% of adolescents aged 14-18 years report that students are learning somewhat less or significantly less than they would in school… 67% teachers perceive students to have fallen behind in their overall progress compared to where they should if schools were open,” the report said.
Classes were shifted to virtual platforms as schools across the country remained shut for over one-and-a-half years in view of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Centre had allowed state governments to decide on reopening of schools keeping in mind the Covid-19 situation, in October last year. While several states had partially resumed physical classes, there was a complete closure again in April this year after a second wave of the disease hit the country.
With an improvement in the Covid-19 situation again amid drop in cases, several states and Union territories such as Union territories such as Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Assam have reopened schools to resume physical classes.
The survey titled “Rapid assessment of learning during school closures in the context of Covid-19” was conducted in six states, mainly Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, through computer-assisted telephonic interviews between August and September last year. As many as 6,435 respondents, including parents, adolescents and teachers, participated in it.
The report also said that 10% of students did not have access to devices such as a smartphone, feature phone, television (TV), radio, or laptop/computer. “Even when students have access to devices, awareness around using them for remote learning may be low. Of the respondents who did not use any remote learning opportunities, 45% of them report not being aware of any resources from which to learn,” the report stated, adding that 40% of the students in the six surveyed states did not use any form of remote learning in the past six months.
The survey also revealed that 8% of teachers do not have a personal smartphone or laptop and as many as 33% of teachers said they saw no benefits of remote learning.
Highlighting the ‘digital gender divide’, the survey said the use of platforms such as WhatsApp and Youtube among girls was 8% lower than that of boys. Similarly, the usage of these mediums among government school students was 10% lower compared to students from private schools.
Asserting that nearly 30-40% of students were not in touch with their teachers, the report said that “42% of students aged 5-13 years and 29% of students aged 14-18 years are not in touch with their teachers at all. In fact, students in urban areas are in touch more frequently than students in rural areas”.
The report said that compared to other people surveyed, 15% more migrant parents and 9% more ST (Scheduled Tribe) parents reported that their children were learning less now. “Parents of children from migrant families (60%) and from ST families (53%) rated their children’s mental and socio-emotional well-being as poor or very poor compared to the status reported for the overall sample,” it said.
According to the report, 8% of students will likely not return to school in the next three months or after. “Among the reasons against returning to school, a significant minority cited lack of funds. 10% of families state they cannot afford to send children back to school and 6% say they need their children to help earn an income,” it added.
UNICEF has recommended several intermediate, short and long term measures to prevent the learning loss. The suggestions included distribution of textbooks and print study material, frequent teacher-student engagement using open spaces,subsidizing data and device costs for teachers, re-enrolment campaigns to prevent students from dropping out, publicity of guidelines of reopenings, preparations to cater to students with a wide range of learning loss, various efforts to address the holistic well-being of students, teachers and parents, and development of lighter applications that can be downloaded on low-cost smartphones and operate with 2G internet services, among others.
“The prolonged school closure due to Covid-19 has caused many children to miss out on learning, social interaction and playtime which are essential to their overall development and well being… we need to focus on rapidly-building the capacities of teachers who can support learning both in the classroom as well as at home more effectively. We have examples from states like Bihar, where several devices are being purchased for students to support learning. Now is the time to plan and put the structures in place to transition children back into learning. We need to build back better and stronger,” UNICEF India representative Dr Yasmin Ali Haque said.