Bengaluru: As state governments grapple with the idea of reopening schools and expanding online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a recent survey in Karnataka has found:
- 95% of schools want to postpone board exams this year
- 92% of schools sought a reduced syllabus for the new academic year
- 97% of the schools surveyed had very little digital infrastructure to support online classes
- 96% of the schools require support to address the wellbeing and mental health concerns of students
Principals, heads of institutions and teachers at 853 educational institutions across 28 districts of Karnataka were surveyed by Dream a Dream, an NGO, to understand the impact of COVID-19 on low-cost private schools, government and government-aided schools. Nearly three in four surveyed were rural schools, and more than half were government and government-aided schools.
At 6,516, Karnataka has the second highest number of COVID-19 cases among the five states in south India, and reported its highest daily increase (515) on June 6, as per the Union health ministry’s data on June 13.
Postpone exams, reduce syllabus
Representatives of 95% schools said they wanted to postpone Board exams (yearly examinations conducted by the state government’s education ‘board’). The principals said they feared that as the schools had to be shut down without notice, they had not prepared students for Board exams. Since students have not engaged in learning during the lockdown, “they may have to start again right from the start to improve reading abilities of students as well with their numerical/ mathematical abilities”, the report said.
Karnataka banned live online classes for pre-primary and primary classes on June 10, 2020. “Such classes will not substitute classroom teaching and might affect the students’ age and mental well-being,” said Suresh Kumar, the state’s primary and secondary education minister. While there were news reports that the decision had been extended to class 7, the minister clarified that “is only a suggestion from few cabinet ministers as expressed in an informal discussion and not a decision”.
The state board exams will be held as scheduled, Kumar insisted.
Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry have cancelled class 10 board exams and decided to promote all students.
The central education minister has advised the Central Board of Secondary Education to promote all students in classes 1 to 8 to the next grade.
In a survey of parents in 224 districts in India conducted by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, 37% said schools should be opened only after no new cases are reported in the district and its 20-km radius for 21 days, while 16% said schools should be reopened only after new cases in the entire state are reduced to zero for 21 days.
A similar nationwide survey by LEAD school of 5,000 parents in metro and non-metro cities found that 70% of parents felt worried about the impact of COVID-19 on their children’s education and 78% are worried about their children’s health and safety.
Another survey by the Hyderabad Schools Parents Association noted that 82% of parents wanted schools to physically reopen only after a cure or vaccine is found.
The Dream a Dream survey noted that currently, 97% of the schools require support in the form of accessible digital learning solutions and training sessions for teachers. While there are “strong recommendations to begin schools to provide online and remote classes, none of the schools under the survey have had any experience in handling online or remote classes and teachers are not familiar with the use of technology in the teaching and learning process”, it added.
Schools are “unclear on how to proceed further and require support for digital learning and online pedagogical solutions”, said Sreehari Ravindranath, associate director of research at Dream a Dream, in a press statement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school closures in 191 countries, affecting at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary and secondary teachers, according to the United Nations. Half of all students currently out of the classroom--or nearly 830 million learners globally--do not have access to a computer and more than 40% have no Internet access at home.
“This is really not a digital divide as much as an economic divide. There are educated and well-off parents who have a lot of resources, including digital,” said Rukmini Banerji, the chief executive officer of Pratham Education Foundation, in an interview to IndiaSpend. “But the biggest resource they have is their own education and the ability to help children in whatever way they can.”
The pandemic has also weakened schools’ finances, the Dream a Dream survey said, with 89% of schools needing support. A majority of the private schools have not been paying teachers and other staff. “Due to the lockdown, schools have not been collecting fees for the last few months and expect some financial assistance from the government to support them for the new academic year,” the survey noted.
The lockdown has also underscored the need for mental health support for children--96% of the schools require support to address students’ wellbeing and mental health concerns, the survey found. Students who come from “vulnerable backgrounds may need support and care as the pandemic has affected them badly”, said a principal in Mysore.
“School routines are important coping mechanisms for young people with mental health issues. When schools are closed, they lose an anchor in life and their symptoms could relapse,” noted an April 14, 2020, article in The Lancet.
The NGO has recommended:
- Mental wellbeing of students be ensured through systemic interventions.
- Interest-free loans, subsidy in taxes, free online teaching aids, among others to support schools.
- Clear guidance on health and safety standards including practical actions and checklists for school administrators.
- Appropriate teaching aids, digital solutions and training of teaching staff for remote and virtual learning.
(Paliath is an analyst with IndiaSpend.)
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