Frustrated with not getting a chance to go to school for nearly 18 months due to Covid, class 3 student Abhinav Shukla was full of excitement in November last year when schools reopened.
Ruhi Yadav, a KG student who began her school journey online when she enrolled in nursery class last year, was yet to step into school even once till November. Their hopes, however, were short-lived with the schools again closed in Delhi due to pollution within a week of reopening.
Two weeks later, schools were allowed to reopen but had to be closed again following Delhi High Court rap over alarming pollution levels. In December, the schools were again allowed to reopen for classes above 6 while junior classes were scheduled to reopen from December 27. But then the Delhi government enforced a yellow alert following a spike in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of a new Omicron variant.
Similar stories were witnessed across other states where schools were reopened only to be closed and reopened again. With schools stuck in the cycle of repeated closures in 2021, experts rang alarm bells for long term consequences and widening learning gaps. With the threat of a third wave looming large, school principals feel it’s clear that there will be more closures and hence a roadmap for 2022 is necessary.
“The closure of schools has now started taking a toll on children’s mental and physical health. Learning loss has become a global phenomenon and steps to bridge the learning gap are of utmost importance. It is crucial to break the monotony as educators, our focus must also be on empowering parents to facilitate children’s learning at home. A list of activities can be shared with them so that resources at home can be used for gauging the learning of learners,” said Sumedha Goel, director of The Shri Ram Wonder Years at Rohini here.
Seema Kaur, principal of Pacific World School, said, “The new year brings in new hopes, goals and vision. We have sustained the pandemic for two years and have ensured to bridge the learning gaps for our learners. Times are still uncertain, and NCERTs decision of reducing the course is a welcome move. In 2021, the learning gaps were reduced to a large extent with hybrid learning against cent per cent online learning.”
According to Pallavi Upadhyaya, principal of DPS RNE Ghaziabad, during 2021, the Covid crisis and pollution have forced school closure, heavily disrupting the learning process.
“The future is unforeseeable, if the pandemic still forces prolonged closures this year too, the educational sector will face a major setback. Therefore, we will have to find ways to curb the gap in this sector. Initially, the online classes came as a rescue during these difficult times. The teachers made every possible effort to put across the content in such a way that the students were able to cope up with the gap easily. Now, we need to make it even better and effective,” she said.
Anshu Mittal, principal of MRG School, Rohini, believes pandemic years have shown us that there lies a need to modify the curriculum in such a manner that effective completion of the syllabus in both primary and upper classes happens.
“The authorities must look at moderating syllabus and making it unanimous for all schools so that all institutions are on a par. For the month of April and May, bridge courses can be planned that will help in skill development for the next session. The moderated curriculum should float from July as it will help in comprehension and effective implementation of the course,” she said.
“It is important to conduct counselling sessions for both students and parents, as this lifestyle with a fear of virus looming around can get extremely perplexing at times. To hold meaningful discussions is also important, it is preferred to make small groups of students for social interaction and learning. Also as an educator, empowering a student in a true sense can occur when focus on a particular skill of child is maintained, around which he feels not only comfortable but also has an innate interest,” she added.
From education teams at World Bank to UNESCO, experts have been warning against school closures now citing long term losses. However, the governments have been stuck in making the tough choice between health and education for children.
Renu Shorey, director of Gillco International School, said they are geared up if the pandemic still forces prolonged closure this year too and have a full-fledged plan to reduce the learning gaps by applying novel and untried methods to bridge this gap.
“The plan will be to definitely drop archaic methods adopted so far for teaching. We are working on training our teachers to work on research and implement a large number of tools available to make learning interactive, challenging and exciting that can shorten the gap in the way of learning.
“Moreover, a change in patterns of evaluation to test understanding, inference, application and prediction of concepts will help. We are trying to convert some of the concepts into games so that students’ love of gadgets can be used in the process of better learning. Discussion and presentation will be an unquestionable solution to breakout rooms which will help in bridging the gap of learning,” said Shorey.