This has shown significant fallout in the learning outcome, as 42% of the children in this category from Classes III to V in rural India and 35% from urban areas were unable to read more than a few letters in the reading test. Over 75% parents also felt that reading and writing abilities among children in Class I to V have declined during this period. These are revealed in “School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey” report as 90% urban parents and 97% rural parents clamour for reopening of schools.
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The survey and report done by Jean Dreze, welfare economist, social scientist and activist and Reetika Khera, associate professor economics of IIT Delhi, was released on Monday, which sampled 1,400 school children in underprivileged households of which 60% of the sample are from rural areas and belongs to dalit or adivasi communities.
In sync with many government data, the report highlighted the digital divide – as 55% of the SC/ ST students as against 38% others are from a household who live without a smartphone. And a direct correlation with lack of digital devices, poor internet connectivity to that of access to education during the Covid-19 situation can been seen from the survey which revealed that while only 8% rural students and 24% urban students are studying online regularly while 37% rural children and 19% urban children among the sample are not studying at all during this period.
Describing the situation, the report stated, “During this period, a small minority of privileged children were able to study online in the comfort and safety of their homes. The rest, however, were locked out of school without further ado. Some struggled to continue studying, online or offline. Many others gave up and spent months milling around the village or basti, when they were not working.”
The survey took place in August 2021 in 15 states and UTs which include Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal and focused on relatively deprived hamlets and bastis, where children generally attend government schools.
In the section ‘fiction of online education” the report highlighted that not having a smartphone is not the only hurdle of online education as “In addition, there are other issues of online access such as poor connectivity and lack of money for ‘data’,” … “Another major hurdle, especially in rural areas, is that the school is not sending online material, or if it is, parents are not aware of it. Some children, particularly the younger ones, lack understanding of online study in any case, or find it difficult to concentrate.”
As per the report, of the 51% of the rural children who live in a family with smartphones, 36% don’t have their own phones, 6% can’t afford internet data, for 10% online study is beyond their understanding and 43% of them received no online materials from school.
Of those who have access to online education among the sampled population, 57% from urban areas and 65% from rural areas often face connectivity issues, while just 27% in urban areas and 12% in rural areas are getting access to live classes.
Another big shift has been the exodus from private schools, as the report claimed that one-fifth of the children surveyed were enrolled in private schools when the lockdown started in March 2020. And 26% of them got transferred to government schools, probably because of “During the lockout, many private schools tried to survive by switching to online education and continuing to charge the same fees. Poor parents often became reluctant to pay the fees and other costs (including smartphone and recharge), either due to depressed earnings or because online education did not work well for their children,” while many are still struggling to transfer as “private school insisted on all fees being paid before giving them a “transfer certificate.