COVID-19: Education experts says make this a ‘zero academic year’

Picture used for representational purpose (Source: Shutterstock)Picture used for representational purpose (Source: Shutterstock)

R. Radhika | June 10, 2020 | 03:50 PM IST

NEW DELHI: As the country is grappling with the coronavirus crisis, education experts and right to education activists are deliberating the possibility of declaring this a “zero academic year”.

In a webinar hosted by the Right to Education Forum, an alliance of non-profits, academics and activists on education, experts from Odisha, West Bengal and Delhi discussed the impact of the pandemic on the education system.

Ashok Agarawal, High Court advocate in Delhi, suggested the need to cancel the current academic year and promote all students without exams.

“The government should declare this year as zero academic year in the interest of the students. A majority of parents are not in favour of opening schools. They do not wish to risk the lives of their children,” said Agarawal.

Reflecting on the ground situation, Prabir Basu, West Bengal convener of the RTE Forum indicated the need to increase government spending on educational infrastructure.

“The state is facing the twin burden of returning migrants and the increase in COVID-19 cases,” Basu explained. “The state government should try to invest in the infrastructure to support the expected increase in enrolment,” he added.

Digital learning

The Odisha convener of RTE forum, Anil Pradhan, observed that the penetration of digital learning has been minimal in the state.

“Only three coastal districts of Odisha have been able to access digital learning and there too it has been limited to WhatsApp forwards from the educational department,” said Pradhan.

Pradhan highlighted the issue of lack of necessary equipment and internet connectivity in the state which has caused mental trauma to the students feeling left behind. Unable to access online classes, a student in Kerala, committed suicide earlier this month.

Other experts pointed out the indispensability of classroom education. “There is no alternative to classroom learning. Digital learning can only be used as a complementary tool but it cannot be considered a substitute,” said Agarawal.

Aggarwal also criticized the government’s decision to reduce the syllabus to reopen the schools. “They [government] will form their decision based on the digital classes which will be absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

The ministry of Human Resource Development has been widely promoting e-learning formats and online resources for uninterrupted education. The secretary of school education and literacy, Anita Karwal, will also hold a meeting with all state education secretaries to discuss the measures to re-open schools after August 15.

On school fees

Even after guidelines issued by several state governments, many major private schools are still pressurising parents to pay fees. “Big private schools in Kolkata have been pressurising parents to submit the fee,” said Basu.

Meanwhile, the lockdown has caused severe losses to smaller schools in Delhi and Odisha.

Agarawal pointed out, “In Delhi, smaller private schools have gone bankrupt as around 80 percent parents have not paid the fee. Unlike big schools, which earn large profit margins, these budget schools survive on the fees paid by the parents.”

Addressing the role of government on the issue, Pradhan said, “The government has been silent on the matter of smaller schools and fee collection. The decision-making process has been largely opaque in Odisha.”

The panel agreed on the need for strengthening the public education system for the benefit of all students.

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