By Mousumi Bhattacharjee
Poor learning outcomes of kids due to Covid-19 is a global shame (UNICEF, various publications). Unfortunate is the situation of those completing schooling, in crucial years of board exams or probably going to drop out after primary schooling. The secondary dropout rate was 22% and 25% for males and females in 2019-20 (U-DISE reports). The pandemic has resurrected the unfortunate situations that force children to remain undereducated and unemployable.
Given the constant disruption, an innovative and quick strategy for schools, teachers and parents ensures that kids, especially those from underprivileged backgrounds (from low-income families, migrant households constantly on the move, kids of informal sector workers, etc) have access to recorded resources on vocational subjects on mobile phones or other digital gadgets.
Vocational courses expose children to real-life practicalities at a young age. Our learning environment should encourage children from underprivileged backgrounds who are more likely to be employed at a young age and aspire to be entrepreneurs to develop a sustainable bonding. Remote learning solutions can help overcome the divide between the two sets of learners, and feed into Atmanirbhar Bharat.
The use of recorded resources for disseminating knowledge and information is not new (Yasin, EDC World Bank 2020) for imparting vocational education to disadvantaged kids who probably need to acquire job-relevant skills at a young age and during pandemics.
While the instant generation of resource material may be tricky, it is high time for teachers to develop and share recorded teaching resources. The shutdown of schools, limited interaction and reduced physical activity are severe handicaps to kids acquiring basic and job-relevant skills during pandemic periods. Migrant kids and kids of informal sector workers are often left unattended.
Given that such kids are more likely to be hired in the informal sector, it is high time we lent an informed hand to eliminate the stories of poor kids, poor jobs, and impoverished lives. Overall, auditory learning methods should be taught further, especially for disadvantaged kids. Instead of forced schooling, flexibility needs to be provided to the underprivileged to learn at their own pace and convenience with full resource access — recorded lectures for each subject whenever required. Teachers should be able to pay greater attention to imparting problem-solving and job-relevant skills.
Parents can also have access to such resources and ensure kids are constantly engaged. Each teacher needs to develop recorded content to relate to the person they interact with in person during school hours. Recorded materials will help maintain the humane connection and build on socio-emotional skills.
Learning losses are high not only for reading and writing skills but also for other life and socio-emotional skills due to reduced interaction with fellow students and teachers. Countries globally are experimenting with remote learning for at least general education courses for decades now especially with disadvantaged kids. More so due to the pandemic.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have a target global audience for years now. Digital learning is a must and completely transformed the way students learn (Wu, Frontiers 2021; van der Velde et al 2021). Drawing from global experience, one of the sustainable solutions is to handout more visual images on technical content to kids opting for vocational courses like plumbing and electrician. Human brains process sight and sound similarly (ScienceDaily 2018).
Landing up in a newly rented flat, a theoretical geologist may need to fix his or her own furniture. That is when you realise that a little bit of vocational training in school may have been useful. We should utilise such experiences to leapfrog the learning losses especially in the space of vocational education.
Here’s what the forerunners in vocational training, the Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training, says: “The impact of the Corona pandemic on the labour market and vocational education and training is serious. Hundreds of thousands of trainees are forced to work from home — shortly before their final exams. Apprenticeships seem to be at risk, the supply of skilled workers uncertain.”
The OECD documents some of the disruptions in vocational education as unable to learn in classrooms, school workshops or workplaces; lack of access to tools, materials, equipment, and machinery; some medical schools have reduced training intensity because of health risks; and lower apprenticeship offers (OECD 2020).
Some of the global responses to the crises in the usage of online and virtual platforms are as follows:
• France – free online vocational education and training (VET) courses for 3 months
• South Korea – Smart Training Education Platform (STEP) platform allows users to upload free content in addition to 300 existing courses, which are subsidised and come with quality assurance mechanisms
• The Netherlands – in-person VET in small groups for those without sufficient access to digital resources. Schools are also providing temporary access to students
• United Kingdom – Skills for Health made Core Skills Training available online for the healthcare sector and educational institutes (OECD 2020).
Good vocational teachers are required in large numbers to scale-up such initiatives. To summarise, auditory and visual (in-print and online) asynchronous learning works best during crisis periods. Such digital methods of reaching out to kids who may have had face-to-face interaction at some point in time can help reduce learning losses. Startups should start investing in ed-tech related initiatives for both the resource-rich and poor kids.
(The author is an Associate Fellow at the National Council of Applied Economic Research)
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