A chasm in education

Monday Musing

[ Amar Sangno ]

Ever since the nationwide lockdown was enforced in India, parents are wrestling with a conundrum between sending their wards to schools amid paranoia caused by the pandemic and the nagging anxiety to cope with the children’s education at home.

The pandemic has struck the education department in Arunachal in its sleep and shaken the foundation of the department to the very core, as the department is completely unprepared for a pandemic of such magnitude. Three months after being marooned by the Covid-19 surge, the authority had issued a direction for online classes to start in July; however, it was not mandatory for students to attend classes.

Some private schools hastily started online classes and charged unregulated tuition fees from the students, without emphasizing on quality of education. Sadly, the students belonging to economically poor families are not destined to get online classes as the majority of the schools in the rural areas have no internet connectivity. The rural areas’ schools constitute 60 percent of the schools in Arunachal. In other words, online classes are a total failure in Arunachal.

It doesn’t matter if the union education minister has refused to declare the academic year 2020-21 as a zero academic year. The truth is, by and large, there is zero academic activity in the government-run schools. The Covid-19 impact has wrecked the national education policy’s primary objective of achieving universalization of education and bringing it up to global standards.

“The government should declare this academic year as ‘home education year’, focusing on teaching the students traditional arts and crafts, their mother tongues and folklores, etc,” opined Techi Bolo, general secretary of the AASSATA.

In its latest decree, the home affairs ministry has restricted the schools from reopening before 30 November. The education system is completely shattered in Arunachal in particular and India as a whole as millions of students are on a forced year-long vacation without books and pens. India had already a bitter memory of ‘zero academic year’ during the 1962 Sino-India war, when the schools were shut as the nation was busy with the war at the frontiers.

According Tani Talom, deputy director of school education (DDSE) of Pakke-Kessang district, the neo-continuous learning plan of online classes has impacted in two ways. “Reading, writing and speaking habit among learners have been ruined. The parents are facing hardship in affording a smartphone for every child of a family to access digital classes,” Talom said.

Educationists and experts have observed that, to achieve effective online classes, network connectivity should be mandatory.

“Providing mobile, with more than one from the same family and network connectivity is one of the greatest challenges the schools are facing,” said Jongge Yirang, East Siang DDSE.

“With mobiles, the students are diverted. Online classes are not at all possible for primary school. Assignments through online classes are not practical,” Yirang added.

Successive government’s vision to ensure inclusive and equitable education from pre-school to senior secondary stage, and its goal to bridge social, regional and gender gaps in pursuit of quality education is far from being realized. Instead, the pandemic has exposed the faulty education policy in the state, with a non-functional state council for education research & training, which is supposed to design comprehensive and pragmatic educational tools and plans.

Indeed, the pandemic has created a chasm in education, which will swallow the future of tens of thousands of children, especially from the weaker sections of the society. Who would take the responsibility for endangering the education of the future generation?