Schools should be the absolute last thing to close

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Why aren’t schools open like malls, restaurants and everything else?

Nearly two years later, schools are still closed for millions of children and some may never return to classrooms. As children experience widespread loss of learning, parents and school owners are demanding reopening and renewal of school education. Maharashtra took the bold step of at least considering the thought. Meanwhile, the education department of Karnataka has also said it is awaiting the state’s approval to reopen schools and resume on-campus classes. Jaime Saavedra, World Bank’s Global Education Director, previously stated that there is no reason to keep schools closed in the face of the pandemic and even if new variants emerge. After tracking the impact of COVID-19 on education, he said in an interview that closing schools should be the absolute last resort.

Multiple studies have found that schools do not play a significant role in the spread of COVID-19. Health risks for children are theoretically low if schools remain open, while the cost of school closure is extremely high, noted Saavedra. Rationalising his stance on the situation, he said that “the potential increase of learning poverty might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies.”

A further postponement would be unfortunate

There is a critical need to send children back to school. Here’s why going back to the classroom can help children — and their working parents.

Parenting under lockdown was something no mom or dad was prepared to tackle. Balancing work-from-home while sitting with your kid through Zoom classes was difficult, so were the endless demands, the unsupervised toys, screen-time, and recreation that you schedule for your child. Think how amazing it would be to reap the benefits of not having to manage all these at home and how everything can just go back to normal. 

Are the kids in primary affected more due to school closures?

Even though online classes work for urban cities, according to new data released by UNICEF, schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns. Additionally, around 214 million children globally (that is 1 in 7) have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning.

Limited social interactions and a general lack of routine for primary students resulted in parents trying innovative methods to keep them occupied but it had its limit. While parents tried to stay strong for their children, the worry and anxiety got the better of even the strongest of them and that of the little ones. 

In India, the majority of primary class students rely on schools as a place where they can have meaningful interaction with their peers, seek mental support, access healthy and nutritious meals. The longer classrooms remain closed, the longer children from low-income backgrounds are cut off from these critical elements of childhood. So, the government must prioritize reopening schools in every state. 

In rural areas, children are already intermingling with each other and other adults but they are not coming to school. Statistics indicate about 2,000 infants die in India everyday due to malnutrition-related causes. It would be unfair to play up the “life vs education” argument while ignoring the thousands of children who have fallen into poverty, child labour or child marriage, according to a letter written to the current government. It is well known that lack of education for students, particularly girls, affects the health and livelihood of the next generation too. 

Learning Loss due to school closures

Considerable empirical evidence on the impact of COVID-19-related school closures on student achievement, specifically in younger students and students from families with low socioeconomic status, is only just emerging. With the high cost of this prolonged period of remote learning, from rising rates of depression and anxiety to the loss of student learning, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an especially heavy toll on children.

What exactly is learning loss? The loss of knowledge and skills that students experience when they are not in school is termed as learning loss. It is the concept that learning decays over time if students do not engage with it on a regular basis. The term “learning loss” has been used in a sincere way since the pandemic forced schools around the world to close their doors to in-person learning. During the lockdown, the flow of resources slows for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Even if the instruction is delivered online, returning to in-person or adopting a hybrid model, many schools are still struggling with the question, “How do we catch up?”

School closures have far-reaching consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing. The most vulnerable children and those unable to access remote learning are at high risk, they may never return to the classroom. Many of them are even being forced into child marriage or child labour. The latest UNESCO data claims that more than 888 million children worldwide continue to face disruptions to high-quality learning due to full or partial school closures.

In our country, around 1.5 million schools were shut due to the pandemic and it has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. Shockingly, there are over six million girls and boys who were already out of school even before the COVID-19 crisis began. As per the recent data, almost 30 million children in India couldn’t continue with education during the pandemic as online education is not an option for all. Only one in four children has access to digital devices and internet connectivity, so now, if these students return to the classrooms, they will need support to readjust and catch up on their learning. The processing of this phase could be devastating in children compared to adolescents as many of them don’t even have smartphones. 

Coming back to parents, they are also concerned about the ways their kids are missing out and the fact that they have done little to no physical activity for the past year. To fill the academic gap-growth and combat the problem, the authorities should step in to make things easier for both children and their parents.

It’s reasonable that there are some reservations about permanently reopening school doors. Students are not receiving vaccinations, schools that did not follow proper Covid guidelines appear to be ‘super-spreaders’. Rest assured, schools, with the proper precautions and guidelines, can operate as efficiently as any mall, cinema, or restaurant.

However, in countries like India, where the inequalities in education were already rampant before the pandemic and the learning poverty levels were already staggering, there is a lot at stake. School closures concern parents and children from low-income families, it does affect affordable private schools that are on the verge of bankruptcy. They fear this ongoing third wave could be their end.

What transpired during the never-ending lockdown and the seemingly uncertain days ahead have taught us important lessons that we will continue to take forward in the years to come. But to say the least, schools can be exciting and filled with great experiences, and school-based programs vary in their effectiveness. Therefore, we are sure that many parents are looking forward to sending their kids to a potentially positive environment. 

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