Hardlook: School is out | News from cities, The Indian Express

On January 10, a headline crossed news portals around the world: “Uganda reopens schools after world’s longest Covid-19 shutdown.” In the Indian capital, however, repeated and prolonged closures have meant that children in primary and secondary schools have barely attended physical school since the start of the pandemic.

According to UNESCO’s “Global School Closure Duration Datasheet”, which contains data on the number of weeks of full and partial closure in each country between March 2020 and October 21, 2021, schools have been closed in Uganda for 83 weeks so far. — 60 weeks of total closure and 23 weeks of partial closure.

India follows with 82 weeks of shutdown, along with Nepal and Bolivia, with 25 weeks of total shutdown and 57 weeks of partial shutdown.

However, these nationwide figures do not reflect regional variations of an opening and closing process that has, to some extent, been conducted in a decentralized manner in India. From March 1, 2020 to October 31, 2021, schools in Delhi were closed for 85 weeks or about 19 months – fully closed for 65 weeks, partially closed for 20 weeks.

Other major metropolitan cities in India, with varying Covid circumstances, had different reopening timelines:

– In Kolkata for example, schools have not opened for primary and middle school children for even a single day since they first closed on March 14, 2020.

– In Mumbai, schools have reopened after the first extended closure on October 4, 2021, for grades VIII to XII. They had reopened for Classes I-VII also on December 15 before closing completely on January 3 with the start of the current wave. The local government has now decided that schools will reopen for all grades, including pre-primary, on Monday.

– Ahmedabad attempted to open for classes VI to VIII earlier in February 2021 before closing on March 18 due to the second wave. These classes reopened on September 2, followed by classes I to V on November 22. Schools closed for grades I to IX on January 8 due to the current wave.

– Delhi itself has shuttled between open and close on several occasions. Schools first opened grades IX to XII in January 2021 before closing on April 9 with the start of the second wave. Schools then opened for these classes from September.

The capital had also ventured to reopen for pre-primary, primary and middle school students from November 1. But within two weeks, physical classes for all levels were suspended from November 15 due to rising air pollution levels. Schools reopened for all grades on November 29 and were ordered to close again within days, citing pollution, on December 2. The year 2021 has seen Delhi’s longest ‘air pollution shutdown’.

While schools briefly opened for grades VI to XII for 10 days, they closed completely on December 29. The net result is that schools have been allowed to open for primary classes for 18 days since the start of the pandemic.

In the middle of the third wave, the discussions around the reopening focus on the acceleration of the vaccination of 15-17 year olds. Vaccination against Covid-19 was opened for this age group on January 3 and the government aims to vaccinate 100% of eligible adolescents by January 30.

“Vaccinating 100% of students will help us transition from online to offline education. Now that Covid cases are decreasing and most upper grade students have been vaccinated, a proposal could be submitted to the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) for the reopening of schools,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish said. Sisodia.

Experts, parents speak

A Delhi education department official said he wanted to reopen schools. “We now have the example of Maharashtra, and there are global examples in favor of opening them up. There is medical evidence that Covid affects young children less. But the people who have to make that decision must do so based on logic and evidence and not perception,” the official said, referring to the DDMA.

“There needs to be more clarity on how we are going to handle this in the future, at what stage these measures should be taken. Between the second and the third wave, there was a considerable amount of time when we could have opened,” the official said.

Yamini Aiyar, president of the Center for Policy Research, said that by keeping schools closed to reduce the spread of Covid, the trade-off in terms of children’s learning is huge.

“When the pandemic first took hold here, we experienced severe lockdown and realized the economic consequences are huge. When the second wave came with the Delta variant, which was more lethal, we entered a more measured lockdown as we had learned from past experience. We never made that choice for schools… One thing that has made governments recalcitrant is the voices of elites, where it is assumed that online learning can be a substitute. We have found different ways to circumvent our economic life in a sensible way. It would make sense that we could have found different ways to open schools with appropriate SOPs, and over time we would also have found ways to overcome hesitation. But there was no one to push for it as traders associations and business owners associations pushed to open up the economy,” she said.

In the first survey to indicate how children’s learning levels have been impacted due to school closures during the pandemic, the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), conducted in March of the he past year in rural Karnataka has shown that reading and numeracy skills among children have taken a big hit, especially among primary school pupils.

In the two years between 2018 and now, the survey found that the percentage of students in class IV, for example, who cannot even recognize a letter in Kannada, increased from 5.1% in 2018 to 12% in 2020. For class I pupils, this percentage increased from 40.3% in 2018 to 56.8% in 2020.

Numeracy skills were also impacted. For example, the percentage of children in class I who cannot recognize the numbers between 1 and 9 increased from 29.7% in 2014 to 42.6% in 2020. For students in class V, this figure was 2.3% in 2014 and now stands at 4.6%.

Several parents have also filed a petition against the extended school closures.

Over the past few months, lawyer Tanya Aggarwal has been balancing work, caring for her six-year-old son and following global research on school closures and their effects, and Covid in children. She is also a strong advocate for prolonged and repeated closures, especially at the primary level. To this end, she has drafted petitions, gathered signatories for them, written articles and lobbied for them on social media.

“A small group of us started thinking about it around February last year, which marked almost a year of school closure. But the second wave hit. In June, we started full steam ahead. Honestly up until then we had also been very scared we didn’t know much about Covid and as online access itself wasn’t a problem for my child it hadn’t been difficult until there. For many, education is a ticket to upward mobility, it can define your life. I can’t believe so many kids are being deprived of it for learning online. Even for those with online access, engagement is not significant, especially for young children. They learn so much from each other,” she said.

Currently, she is circulating a petition asking authorities in Delhi to open schools first when considering lifting the current set of restrictions. It brought together more than 1,000 signatories.

(With contributions from Ritu Sharma, Santanu Chowdhury and Pallavi Smart)

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