Education and learning have been affected the most, throughout India in general, and JK UT in particular, during the devastating COVID pandemic. Schools have been closed for months altogether due to this deadly virus, and ensuing restrictions. Although teachers managed to take teaching online so that students were not totally left behind, students from rural areas missed out in a huge way. For these students, digital learning was, and is, simply not an option because they live at places where internet connection or mobile network connectivity is not an easily available facility. For thousands of students, not only did learning and teaching not take place during the closure period, there was also serious problem of lost learning that occurs when students disengage from school. When students return to schools after each closure, teachers confront lower levels of retention and have to reassess their expectations of how much a student can catch up given how badly schooling was affected.
Compounding the problem, a rough estimate by some independent researchers suggests that a huge number of students may drop out of school as a result of income losses and other factors created by the pandemic.
During 2020, Director School Education Kashmir and concerned chief education officers issued the orders of conducting community classes. The community classes were conducted with zeal and zest. The monitoring of the process was maintained at all levels and the process was very effective, yielding good results. Community classes were an impetus to those students in particular who live at the places where there's no internet connectivity.
But during 2021, as the virus threat went up, the process of conducting community classes was stopped. And it remains barred till date. This is having a huge and adverse impact on the students of far flung rural areas.
In Kupwara, we have some places like Budnambal and Keran. There doesn't exist a mobile tower, internet connection is a dream away. What is the alternative for learning available to students of these areas? It was community classes, which remain barred till date. The teachers are enjoying their unexpected break. But, either mobile towers should have been installed in these areas or community classes should have been allowed; of course with due safeguards.
When it comes to decisions on education, the government plays a vital role. Aside from the discussions over board examinations, there should be conversation about, or support extended to, the thousands of students who have been pushed out of the education process during this pandemic. Reopening schools when cases are low is simply not enough. What matters is efforts to be made to re-engage students who have permanently left school.
The government is making all possible efforts and it has still some serious work to do. As schools will reopen, officials should acknowledge the terrible setbacks to education and devise a long-term plan. This strategy must address serious digital divide. Interventions must be planned around these challenges, given that with new variants and high infection rate all over the world, a third wave is a real possibility. As the government mulls its next steps for the educational sector, all teachers must be vaccinated on priority to ensure that future disruptions do not push learning towards an irrecoverable collapse.
As citizens, students, parents, or teachers, we must ensure full cooperation with the administration. All of us must do our bit. That'll help the cause. This too shall pass, very soon.