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80% of Children in India reported learning loss after schools closed amid Covid-19 pandemic: UNICEF

September 10, 2021 01:27 PM

Kathmandu, About 80 per cent of children in India aged between 14 and 18 years have reported lower levels of learning since the schools closed physically for the children amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a research study by UNICEF stated.

The study, which assessed the impact of learning in children during the closure of schools amid the pandemic, found that a substantial proportion of students and their parents reported that students learnt significantly less compared to pre-pandemic levels.

According to the UN body, school closures in South Asia due to the COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted the learning of 434 million children.

"In India, 80 per cent of children aged 14-18 years reported lower levels of learning than when physically at school. Similarly, in Sri Lanka, 69 per cent of parents of primary school children reported that their children were learning “less” or “a lot less.” Girls, children from the most disadvantaged households and children with disabilities faced the biggest challenges while learning remotely," it evaluated.

The schooling went online with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the learning was not affected much among those children whose families arranged smartphones, it came to halt for less resourceful children.

The UNICEF said that despite significant efforts from governments, low connectivity and access to digital devices have severely hampered efforts to roll out remote learning.

"In India, 42 per cent of children between 6-13 years reported not using any type of remote learning during school closures. In Pakistan 23 per cent of younger children didn’t have access to any device that could support remote learning. Poor and disadvantaged households have been the worst hit, with many families struggling to afford even a single device," the researchers noted.

Even when devices are available, UNICEF’s research indicates that they are often underutilized and access to the children was very limited. For example, in Pakistan, among children with access to devices, only about 24 per cent could use them when they wanted to, it added.

The research also found that student-teacher engagement, when regular and reciprocal, is a strong predictor of success in children’s learning, especially for younger students.

However, most students had little or no contact with their teachers after schools closed. In Sri Lankan private primary schools, 52 per cent of teachers reported contacting their students five days a week, but this number dropped to only 8 per cent for teachers from public primary schools.

Calling the reopening of schools in India a "welcome move," Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, President, UNICEF India, said that schools are s central part of children's lives and they should be reopened on priority.

"The prolonged school closure due to COVID-19 has caused many children to miss out on learning, social interaction and playtime which are essential to their overall development and well being. Safe and gradual reopening of schools in the states of India is a welcome move as children learn best in person and this will help prevent further learning loss and alleviate some of the psychological stress they are facing.

The safety element is critical, Teachers, parents, children and communities can work together along with the Government, to put in place the protocols needed for children to return to schools and learn in a safe environment,” she said.

Yasmin also said that the focus should be shifted towards building the capacities of teachers who can support learning both in the classroom as well as at home more effectively.

"We have examples from states like Bihar, where several devices are being purchased for students to support learning. Now is the time to plan and put the structures in place to transition children back into learning. We need to build back better and stronger,” she added.

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