What should education look like post pandemic?
As the country begins to open classrooms, what should learning look like post pandemic? In August 2021, the Azim Premji Foundation conducted a field study with 363 primary school teachers from five Indian states.
Some critical findings of this study shows how much the lockdown has shaken the learning ability and skill levels of the students of this country. Nine out of ten primary school students have lost at least one language ability, either reading or writing the text at their grade level or the level before. Eight out of every ten students lost at least one mathematical skill – basic operations like subtracting, multiplying or division of two digit numbers. Five months of school closures due to COVID-19 will result in an immediate loss of 0.6 years of schooling.
Affordable private schools and teachers were already facing complex challenges including low pay, difficulty collecting fees while serving underserved communities and losing student enrolment to government schools, among others. It is no longer a secret that the existing structure and policies adopted by most of the schools have resulted in one dimensional focus to complete the syllabus. The impact of the lockdown and the resulting loss demands a fundamental shift toward improving learning outcomes and bridging the learning gap. Students will continue to fall behind if we continue to focus on ‘syllabus completion’ since making sense out of the new grade syllabus without addressing the issue of learning loss will not help them.
Around 56% of teachers surveyed believed that initial teaching-learning should focus solely on recovering from learning loss, while 57% believed that changes in teaching-learning processes would be required. According to the survey, 96% of teachers believe that once schools reopen, it is necessary to assess children on abilities from the previous years (2019–20 and 2020–21), rather than just focus on abilities of the current academic year (2021–22).
Given the circumstances where we all shifted to online learning, we have faced a number of challenges. In the form of a lack of mobile devices for students to learn on, poor connectivity or even financial inability to have internet access, as well as a plethora of challenges for teachers to adapt to this new mode of learning. Thus, the National Education Policy (NEP) is an opportunity that emphasises the importance of children having foundational literacy and numeracy by Grade 3. In the coming months, schools must ensure that children can read fluently and understandably, as well as solve math problems confidently.
The problem at hand, however, is how to get the students back to their grade levels. Teachers will struggle with remedial teaching once students return to classrooms or even if they continue their education online. Teaching at the right level would be the best way forward, but with students now falling into different learning levels, this has turned out to be a multifaceted challenge. Differentiated instruction is one possible way to teach a class with large ability differences. Starting slowly with the fundamentals and gradually integrating a student-centered curriculum by asking students to choose from a few assignments that they are most comfortable with is a step in the right direction. Teachers can use pre-assessments to categorise students and introduce small group projects to help compact the curriculum. It is important to remember that giving students options is both empowering and motivating. Teachers may allow students with multiple ways of learning and assessment, ways in which they study – individually, in pairs, or in small groups – to support students who have returned from a long period of isolated learning.
Many organisations came up with effective approaches and strategies to support educators and students across the country. Pratham, for example, launched ‘Learning readiness and Catch up’ as a campaign to re-start learning in a fun and engaging way which included community based campaigns like ‘Mohalla Math Learning Camp’. Another organisation that has been on a mission to improve foundational language skills is Language and Learning Foundation which has a very effective digital library for improving language skills in the early years.
We realised there is a strong need to take this a step further and ensure access to education is, in principle, aligned to bridge the learning gap by bringing all the stakeholders together with a platform and resources to bind them together. Varthana’s Unlock School 2.0 program started by giving students in grades 1-8 weekly workbooks which are remedial in nature. This initiative will help them build foundational literacy and numeracy skills. These workbooks provided ample opportunities for collaboration among teachers, parents, and students to learn through a variety of fun activities and simple, easy to follow instructions.
Here is the glimpse of Unlock School 2.0 Program conducted in various schools of India
The learning outcomes are aligned with the NCERT grade level syllabus and are thus universally accepted as suitable and grade appropriate content for students. The method of learning through the books focuses on the principle of ‘Learning by Doing’. Thus, the ‘Unlock School’ resources cover the syllabus of the grade level and use it to achieve the goals of bridging the learning gap in an effective and engaging manner.
Our schooling community understands that the post pandemic classrooms must be “Student centric” rather than curriculum-centric. Even before the pandemic, our education system was failing to provide quality schooling, and if we do not bridge this learning gap now, the future of education with the introduction of New education policy will be a far fetched dream. It is hence very important to redefine how we teach, how students learn, and how school objectives and goals are designed and formulated, and the first step in this direction is to ensure we level the playing field for each and every student at their current learning levels and build a strong foundation to move forward.