Education Amidst Covid-19 Pandemic
School gates slammed shut the world over by April 2020. An astonishing 151 crore students across 191 countries have been severely impacted by the closure of educational institutions due to Covid-19, according to the UNESCO. In India, over 32 crore students have been affected by various restrictions and the nationwide lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25. The restrictions and shutdown to protect people from the novel coronavirus have proven to drastically curb the spread of infection. However, as weeks turned into months, paediatricians and educators have begun to voice concern that school closures are doing more harm than good, especially in light of the fact that children rarely develop severe symptoms of Covid-19. Virtual education, despite its advancement, remains a shadow of the real thing and many parents are left juggling work and children. Today, there is a growing chorus of people demanding to bring children back to school. By early June, over 20 countries had done just that, whilst some countries such as Taiwan, Sweden and Nicaragua had never closed their schools, essentially a vast uncontrolled and sometimes fatal experiment.
Nagaland too is now faced with the question of reopening universities and colleges in order to conduct the pending final semester examinations by the end of September as mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC). With little certainty of the future, unrest has grown amongst final year students in almost all states across India. Students in Nagaland took to social media asking the Nagaland government to intervene and cancel the final year exams and promote the students, with the slogan #StudentLivesMatter. On July 29, the UGC is scheduled to file its reply on the plea against its decision on making final year university examinations compulsory and petitioners like Yuva Seva have sought till July 30 to respond to the reply. The Supreme Court will hear the matter on July 31. The issue now is thus evaluating the risk of infection over the importance of education and its socio-economic implications. With many questions about the disease yet to be answered, perhaps it is too soon to make a concrete and studied decision on the issue. There is not enough data to take a risk of such scale, as we have seen from countries that have initially ignored warning signs; the consequences can be monumental.
However, what can be said with certainty is that the Covid-19 pandemic has reshaped education. Education has been pushed to change, with many new solutions and innovations evolving through necessity. The Nagaland government, for instance, has been one of the first states in India to incorporate sign language interpretation in its video and audio broadcast lessons for classes 8 to 12 from July 11 to the 30th, a small but necessary step which has made digital classes an inclusive atmosphere for children with disabilities. Given the digital divide, the educational shift has widened equality gaps. Access to classes has become starker, with those from less economically stable backgrounds suffering the brunt of dislocations caused by the pandemic. Lower income children who depend on school meals are going hungry and statistics shows that children are suffering increased abuse without school staff available to spot and report it. However, at the same time the Covid-19 pandemic has also presented an opportunity to remind ourselves of the skills — informed decision-making, creative problem-solving and perhaps most importantly adaptability to one’s environment — that students need in this unpredictable world besides book knowledge. To ensure all these skills are made a priority for students, resilience must be built into our educational systems as well. An overhaul to our teaching systems is required in order to tackle education amidst this pandemic.