COVID 19 has brought out an unparalleled learning crisis. Over the last one year, it has become more important than ever to rethink our systemic approach towards education. According to RISE (Research on Improving Systems of Education), half year of school closure due to the pandemic will cause an estimated learning loss of 2.2 years[1] in children. As we #buildbackbetter, we have an opportunity to reinvent and refocus on what’s important, rather than going back to normal.

We asked our guests of EI Dialogues on what they thought were the post-pandemic opportunities in education, and what was their best piece of advice on how to make it happen. There has been a series of blog articles and the theme for this is on rethinking how we think about education.

Rukmini Banerji, Pratham Education Foundation

Sudden school closures. Uncertainty, fear, stress. Disruption of life and livelihoods. In the past year, all of these external shocks jolted us and forced new ways of thinking and action. At every level, within the school system and beyond, individuals and institutions used coping tactics. At first, these were immediate reactions but over time more systematic strategies have developed. Looking back over the last ten months and taking a birds’ eye view of entire systems, several thoughts come to mind.

First, the world had begun to acknowledge that education implied schooling and learning. During the pandemic, it became clear that even if schools are closed, learning can happen. It is also evident that an urgent renewed thrust on schooling will be needed to ensure that every child returns to school.

Second, the usual ways of teaching and learning could not happen during the crisis. New ways have emerged. Some better and some not so effective but it has been accompanied with experimentation, innovation and willingness to be open. Different players have been in the centre of this stage, both on the ground and from the “air”. Parents, family members, communities have come forward. In the “air” many new entrepreneurs promoted materials, modes and mechanisms not used widely before.

Third, we had operated on an uneven landscape before but concern about not reaching the last child became deeper.

Fourth, we saw that local decisions are possible even in centralized systems. Moving forward strengthening this flexibility and autonomy will be critical. In the crisis, the ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘who’, and ‘when’ of our education systems has changed; we need to leverage the positive energy from these fundamental shifts as we rethink systems. At the same time, rethinking the “why” of education is also essential.

Watch EI dialogues with Rukmini Banerji to know more about the learning crisis and ASER’s assessment led reform: https://youtu.be/lwTWQr95d_Y

Meeta Sengupta, Centre for Education Strategy

The pandemic brought us face-to-face with our worst practices and now, we have a chance to renew education for equity, accountability, and real outcomes bypassing the traditional rites of passage – the world survived a year without formal exams, without the four walls of the classroom, without the walls of time marked by school bells, and it proved that learning can continue if we resource it well. Learning must go to the learner, not expect the learner to jump hoops and stop their lives to invest in learning. We can integrate both organic and systemic learning into the fabric of our lives, with lifelong learning, with catch-up modules, with remote and online tools, with learning at the point of need at any age. Educators have been brave and broken through so many barriers this year, it is time to be a little more brave and create the new normal that engages, grows, and enables the learner to progress towards their goals.

Watch EI Dialogues with Meeta Sengupta to know more about the education policy and how to effectively take learning to learners: https://youtu.be/ssUiZprOsDs

Neelima Khetan, Brookings India

Personally speaking, I feel the biggest benefit of the pandemic-induced closure of schools and distant learning imposed on all, may well be the realization of the importance of the physical school. Almost all the children I have spoken to  (from the lower and middle classes) have bemoaned the closure of schools. Not only are they struggling to learn through online systems but also they just miss being with friends and teachers. Girls seem to miss that freedom of going out with friends more than boys.

And should this make our educationists think more of the larger value that a school space brings to a child’s life, maybe we can then look at schools with fresh eyes, and not just as places where one goes only to learn from books and be taught by teachers. Before the pandemic and the forced closure of schools happened, I used to often wonder (and feel sad about) if we were moving towards virtual schools … what with the establishment of smart classrooms in even government schools. There used to be also all-round despair about the lack of family and community involvement in schools. This latter perception also seems to have been shattered during the pandemic.

Therefore, I now see a huge opportunity to have a more wholesome conversation about the role of physical schools in a child’s life and to recast schools as not places, which homogenize thinking and characters, but as children’s own spaces.

Watch EI Dialogues with Neelima Khetan to know more about the relationship of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and education and impact: https://youtu.be/IIo0RizCHcA

Amitav Virmani, The Education Alliance

No one could have been prepared for the sudden shutdown of educational institutions and the overnight adoption of virtual learning. In an unprecedented situation, the sudden shift in education only highlighted the long-standing shortcomings and inequalities of our system.

The pandemic has led to the largest disruption of education in history. In India, 320 million students have been affected. In a country where there are more young people than anywhere else in the world, we are faced with a lost generation of children who will not only lose out on quality education but also on making meaningful human connections. Given the already high levels of disparity, the learning loss during COVID-19 has been glaring. Only 27% of households in India have access to the internet and 47% have access to smartphones (National Sample Survey). During the lockdown, 80% of students could not access online schooling, which has only exacerbated the digital divide (Oxfam, 2020).

A major cause of concern is with regards to children in their foundational years (Grades 1,2, and3). 70% of Grade 3 children in India do not have the most basic literacy and numeracy skills (ASER, 2019); without it, we could lose 100 million children from the learning system to illiteracy, omitting the capabilities of an entire generation. In the early years, children are heavily dependent on teachers; now, parents have assumed full responsibility for creating educational ecosystems in their homes to support their wards’ learning. This shift, largely due to the pandemic,  has led to a rise in the opportunities to maximize parental engagement from IVR (Interactive Voice Response) models to Whatsapp-based learning, to Parent Handbooks and Mohalla Schools run by volunteers. Ergo, parents have come to realize the importance of their children being able to read and have strong arithmetic skills from the early stages of learning.

In my experience over the past 7-8 months, there has been no greater need identified than now for all players in our sector to moderate discourse and create a repository of knowledge on navigating the crisis in Indian education. A robust collective response is needed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on education. The NEP’s emphasis on Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) as an urgent ‘National Mission’ is a great opportunity that we must deliver on. As a sector, we need to leverage the strengths of each stakeholder, especially parents, to increase their accountability in their wards’ early childhood learning experiences. Now, more than ever, there needs to be a paradigm shift in foundational learning wherein children ‘read to learn’ more than they ‘learn to read’ so that they can become self-learners.

Watch EI Dialogues with Amitav Virmani to know more about the role of public-private partnerships in education: https://youtu.be/FzQSzJLBCrw

Footnote:

These write-ups are sent to us by our guests on EI Dialogues. EI Dialogues is a video series centred around initiating and furthering dialogues around impacting development in education at scale. Dialogues attempt to synthesize perspectives around education reforms, technology for social impact, and systemic transformation by speaking to individuals from varied roles working to improve education in India.

All episodes can be found on www.youtube.com/eivideos and Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts.

[1] https://riseprogramme.org/tools/simulating-learning

Pranav Kothari

Pranav Kothari

Pranav Kothari heads the Large Scale Assessments and Mindspark Centres divisions at Educational Initiatives. This includes all the work with Governments, Foundations and Corporate CSR in the domain of learning level assessments, interventions and advisory consulting. Prior to EI, Pranav worked as a management consultant with Boston Consulting Group in USA, Germany, Chile and Argentina. He also worked as a Private Equity investor with GTI Global in USA and India. Pranav graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School and a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Pranav Kothari