Future of kids hangs in balance as pandemic hits education in India

By Indira Guerrero

New Delhi, Oct 16 (efe-epa).- Streets filled with children in a New Delhi slum during school hours is a sign of the effects of seven months of Covid-19 lockdown in India, a situation that, in many cases, will end up in school dropouts.

With some 250 million students, the official reopening of schools in India on Thursday was only on papers, as most of the states decided to extend the closure amid a continued spike in coronavirus cases in the second most-affected country, with more than 7 million infections.

Children may lose out on an academic year as clouds of uncertainty loom over their future, especially in the rural areas where girls often give classes a miss during their periods and boys during harvest season.

Remote teaching emerged as the only viable alternative after schools were closed in March.

But the virtual classes became a chimera for the underprivileged because of the lack of access to the internet and smartphones, particularly for the families with multiple children.

Under a canvas roof near an under-construction bridge in the Yamuna Kadhar neighborhood of the Indian capital, Arvind Kumar teaches 20 children amid the noise of heavy machines and the dust raised by bulldozers.

“In a farming family, education (nowadays) is lacking because there are many children (…) and one phone in the house. For four children to use one phone for online classes is difficult,” Kumar told EFE.

“Moreover, we have no electricity connection, so it (mobile) has to be charged using a solar plate. A solar plate can only charge one phone at a time and it takes 4-5 hours for it to charge completely and classes are missed,” he said.

He underlined that parents also end up having to go to school every week to collect study material for their children, which results in problems at workplaces due to periodic absences.

The coronavirus pandemic would result in many children dropping out of schools, he said.

A World Bank report released this month estimated that Covid-19 related lockdowns in South Asia kept some 391 million primary and secondary school students from attending classes, most of them in India.

“This is resulting in enormous dropouts and substantial learning losses, which will have a lifetime impact on the productivity of a generation of students,” said the report, which estimated that some 5.5 million students would drop out of the education system.

The educational setback could also impact the future earnings of these youth, with an average loss of $4,400 or some five percent of their total income during their lifetime, the World Bank said.

Taking into account all the children of South Asia, the region could lose between $622 billion to $880 billion due to school closures, the report estimated.

The grim situation is starkly reflected in neighborhoods such as Yamuna Khadar, where among its 2,000 houses, there are no schools, toilets, or proper water and electricity supply.

In this situation, access to education during a health emergency is a privilege, field researcher, and land rights activist Dev Pal told EFE.

On the one hand, a “family can’t buy three or four phones because due to Covid-19 most have lost their jobs,” and on the other hand, “many of the parents, with poor education, don’t know how to use a smartphone,” he said.

Children facing the situation are trying to overcome these obstacles one way or another before schools resume to avoid falling behind students from affluent neighborhoods, who “have all the facilities for attending online classes.”

“Many students may have to drop out as they are lagging behind in covering the syllabus (compared to students from more privileged backgrounds),” Pal said. EFE-EPA

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