Locked Out: Emergency Report on School Education
The Covid-19 pandemic and its consequent lockdowns have caused schools in India to be closed for the last year and a half – notes Locked Out: Emergency Report on School Education. Published on September 6, 2021, the report discusses the disastrous effects of prolonged school closures on the education of students from poor households. It presents the findings of the School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey.
The survey was conducted in August 2021 by a team of nearly 100 volunteers led by development economists Reetika Khera and Jean Drèze, along with Ranchi-based researchers Nirali Bakhla and Vipul Paikra. It covers 1,362 households with at least one child enrolled at the primary or upper primary level (Classes 1-8). The survey was carried out in 15 states: Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
Around 60 per cent of households resided in rural and 74 per cent in
urban areas. Close to 60 per cent belonged to Dalit or Adivasi communities. And
84 per cent of children from rural households were enrolled in government
The 32-page report found that only 23 per cent of children in urban
areas and eight per cent in rural areas had ‘adequate online access’ during the
pandemic. This severely affected their regular schooling. As many as 76 per
cent of parents in urban areas and 75 per cent of those in rural areas felt there to be a decline in the reading abilities of their child.
The report says that 23 per cent of households surveyed in urban areas and 49 per cent in rural areas did not have a smartphone. Even in households which did have one, only 31 percent of children in urban areas and 15 per cent in rural areas were able to use it to study online regularly. The phones in many households were mainly used by adults for work and other purposes, so they were not available to children, especially younger ones. Other issues included poor connectivity and lack of funds for internet services.
About 30 per cent of children from urban households and 36 per cent from rural households had no access to a personal smartphone – a primary reason for not attending online classes regularly. About 43 per cent of children from rural households stated that their schools had sent no online study materials. If they had, their parents were unaware of it.
Most surveyed students who were not attending online classes, were either not studying at all, or studying occasionally on their own. In rural areas, nearly half of these children were not studying at all. In the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, government schools and local authorities provided no help in ensuring that children continued studying and did not drop out.
About a fifth of the children surveyed were enrolled in private schools at the start of the lockdown in March 2020. As of August 2021, 26 per cent of them had switched to government schools. This happened primarily because parents could not afford the high fees and other expenditures – including smartphone and recharge costs – due to income losses or because online education “did not work well” for their children.
The mid-day meal scheme has been discontinued in government schools in all the sampled states, notes the report. In the three months before the survey, only 11 per cent of children in urban areas and 15 per cent in rural areas received both food – generally food grains like rice or wheat – and cash as substitutes to mid-day meals.
A crucial finding of the report is about the decline in the reading ability of children during the lockdown. Among those enrolled in Classes 3-5, 42 per cent of children in rural areas and 35 per cent in urban areas were not able to read a single word from a simple sentence provided during the survey. Even in the upper-primary level (Classes 6-8), 42 per cent of children in urban and 43 per cent in rural areas were not able to read the sample sentence fluently.
In this survey, a child was considered as literate if they were able to read the sample sentence – whether ‘fluently’ or ‘with difficulty’. Even with this wide-ranging definition, the literacy rate among children aged 10-14 was found to be only 74 per cent in urban areas and 66 per cent in rural areas. The literacy rate among Schedules Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) children in rural areas was as low as 61 per cent. This is much lower than the Census 2011 figures, which report the all-India literacy rate in the age group 10-14 to be 91 per cent.
The impact on education was especially severe among students from marginalised communities. Only four per cent of SC and ST children from rural areas reported being able to study online regularly.
The demand for reopening schools was very high among parents from both rural and urban areas. As many as 90 per cent of parents in urban areas and 97 per cent in rural areas supported the immediate reopening of schools. “Do you really need to ask this question?” – one of the surveyed mothers had responded.
Focus and Factoids by Kislay Pradhan.
Nirali Bakhla, Jean Drèze, Vipul Paikra and Reetika Khera
The School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) Team
06 Sep, 2021