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View PointOpinion: Closure of schools and learning loss

Opinion: Closure of schools and learning loss

Published: 26th Aug 2021 1:13 am

By Venkatanarayana Motkuri and Bharath Bhushan Mamidi

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Covid-19 has shattered the life of the common man as well as the functioning of every system and social order. Containment measures obstructed the learning process among children as their families are affected by the multifaceted crisis. It is severe among the children belonging to financially insecure households. Interactive classroom learning is halted as children attending schools are more vulnerable and at risk of infections. WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) infrastructure is critical for hygiene, which is absent in many school environments. With schools and universities shut, online classes emerged as an alternative to the normal learning process.

‘Learning loss’ is the cost of school closure for a long period. Without adequate learning, students promoted automatically to higher classes cannot perform well in that class. Recovering lost learning is a challenge.

Learning Curve

Learning loss is about forgetting what one has learnt previously or reversal of academic progress, due to breaks or gaps. Learning is retained with continuous recall within an optimum interval. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, proposed “learning curve” applicable all through the life-cycle of humans. He observed a decline in memory retention over time when there are no attempts to retain the information in memory with the effort of recall. A recall of information and application of what is learnt earlier helps retain the information in memory for a longer time. In education, children forget what they learnt earlier unless there is continuous teaching and learning activity.

Learning loss has been a common observation during the short-term summer vacation. Recapitulation practices are to contain such loss. Schools have sessions in the beginning and revision classes at the end of the academic calendar that make children recall what they learnt previously. The Covid-19 crisis disrupted such structured teaching and learning activity. With the closure of schools, most of the students had no access to continued learning transaction that school and the peer education offered within school and outside.

Mitigation and Remediation

Mitigation and remediation are two key measures for containing learning loss. Mitigation through online virtual classes is aimed at arresting or minimising the learning loss. Although virtual classroom helps partially in containing the learning loss, it’s not a substitute for physical classroom under the supervision of teacher. Remediation comes once the schools are opened. It is about extra hours of classes and extended days of school functioning. The extended teaching time helps recover the loss of learning.

Schools were closed completely throughout the last academic year 2020-21. There were some attempts to reopen sporadically but they were withdrawn due to recurrent waves of the infection. There is uncertainty in the current academic year 2021 too. Despite online learning, closure of schools and colleges for such a long time has caused significant learning loss. It is more for the children in school than in colleges.

Several reports have highlighted that children from poor households and vulnerable communities have suffered more for want of modern learning gadgets (tab or smartphone, desktop, laptop, camera), conducive household infrastructure like electricity, and a room with privacy to participate in online learning. Besides, parents have to sit with children while attending online classes and monitor them. The Remote Learning Reachability report of UNICEF (August 2020) revealed that “learning gap is likely to widen across high, middle and low-income families, as children from economically disadvantaged families cannot access remote learning” because only 24% of households in India have access to the internet.

Children without the privilege of electronic gadgets and household infrastructure are marginalised by the digital divide. Teachers engaged in ‘online classes’ have reported being less fruitful in ensuring quality education and ‘education to all’ as some students are deprived of the gadgets. Teachers in a virtual classroom do not know the degree of students’ involvement in the learning process. Teachers’ experiences with the ‘invisible’ student reveal that online classes and the learning process is no substitute for the normal learning process.

Telangana’s Initiatives

The Telangana government has taken certain mitigation measures. It has reduced the syllabus and simplified examinations. It launched online classes through Doordarshan channels. Yet it is difficult to compensate for the learning loss that is taking place in the State.

A study conducted in Telangana by CESS as part of its Young Lives project has observed that parents are more in favour of physical classroom teaching and learning activity for their children with adequate safety measures in the context of the pandemic. The study observed that many children are not able to access online learning activities. Online learning also fails to provide the important learning from peer learning, social interaction, and physical activities. Further, continuous online classes increase screen time, which can cause health issues like hearing and eye irritations.

The impact of Covid-induced Learning Loss on Learning Achievement in education in Telangana is high. The learning achievements in India, in general, are lower when compared with many other countries, especially developed ones. As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) report on learning achievement of children in school education, foundational literacy and numeracy is lacking in more than one-third of class-3 children and around half of the class-5 children, and one-quarter of class-8 children. The loss of two academic years and learning loss due to Covid would further aggravate low levels of learning (academic) achievement in Telangana.

There are equity-related implications as well since the mitigation measure is not reaching all the children. There is also the differential impact of learning loss among children by management of schools they attend ie, private and public schools. The differential impact varies on different groups of children by gender, age, type of school, rural/urban/remote areas, and household background (social & financial). Children of government schools are more affected than those in private schools.

There is a need to re-envision education and the process of learning beyond schools. The State needs to seriously consider the involvement of parents and community-based alternatives to look at home-based support to minimise learning loss during school closures. Local specific innovations are also required to build community resilience necessary for creating safe learning spaces, where children can come together for a short period of time and socialise.

The Covid-induced learning loss has long-term implications in terms of human capital, productivity of labour, wages and earnings of those affected by learning loss. A systematic response for ‘catching up’ is required once schools reopen to address the learning loss suffered by students. Recovery of learning loss depends on the remediation measures taken when schools reopen.

(Venkatanarayana Motkuri is Associate Professor & Coordinator, Research Cell on Education, Centre for Economic and Social Studies [CESS]. Bharath Bhushan Mamidi is Research Consultant, CESS, Hyderabad)

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