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What can we learn from pandemic-induced disruptions?

By Dr Ameeta Mulla Wattal,

Economically weaker section and children with special needs have to be given more attention and importance.

Technology alone cannot guarantee good learning outcomes, writes Dr. Ameeta Mulla Wattal.

The greatest disruption in the history of education has been the pandemic. How do we ensure that education, which is a fundamental human right doesn’t become a ‘generational catastrophe’, because when learning collapses peaceful and productive societies cannot be sustained. The most important aspect is to suppress transmissions and critically plan school opening. This is necessary in order to build trust and confidence among stakeholders.  Even now, many parents are not in agreement on sending their children to schools. Some are afraid and others have got habituated to a hybrid comfort zone. Innumerable students especially in the senior secondary are also not willing to return to schools as their bio-clocks, habits and attitudes have got attuned to working from home.  Several changes will have to be brought into place as ‘Successive closures and reopenings are likely to continue’. More teachers need to be recruited as hybrid models will come into place. Class time may need to increase, remedial programme and accelerated learning will have to be set in place and adjustments will have to be made in curriculum content that needs to be covered. ‘Technology alone cannot guarantee good learning outcomes’. More important that training teachers in ICT skills is ensuring that they have assessment and pedagogical skills to meet children at their levels and to implement the accelerated curriculum and differentiated learning strategies, which are likely to emerge in the return to school. ‘Low tech and no tech’ approach should not be forgotten for those who have limited access to technology, to prevent children from the poorest homes not to be left behind. Economically weaker section and children with special needs have to be given more attention and importance. Special earmarked areas should be created for them so that even if the school is closed down due to pandemic, they should be able to attend maintaining social distancing as it is very difficult for them to study at home and access other facilities. As far as children with special needs are concerned, there should be provisions for them, especially who have autism, dyslexia, dysgraphia and other challenges, so that they can have remedial help which often is not available at home. Sports are a very important part of schooling and has taken a big hit due to the virus. A variety of sports initiatives could be brought in ranging from mindfulness, meditation, yoga, running, dribbling, skipping and other individualized sports activities, where children can channelize their energies. Sports programme could be created so that some kind of physical activity should be available for students. As a result of sports not being available obesity and other lifestyle disorders have affected children. Social emotional learning has to be embedded into the curriculum. It is important that we create a learning experience around SEL, so that we can help deconstruct the conflict that children would have faced during the crisis. This will help us identify the areas of stress, detachment and confusion, that may have affected them. The new school paradigm will have a very vital role in the near future. It will have to be seen how to engage children not only in education but in socializing with their peers, creating safe zones to play, often providing meals, and supporting families, who are working. When students return to school, they will be the least prepared for any traditional testing, which should be put on hold at all levels and there should be more emphasis on bridging learning gaps and emotional development. Students in pre-primary and primary in the age group of 3 to 10 will find it very difficult to get into a routine, because they would have not been to school for over two years.  At the primary level, when children return they should be allowed to have their own learning option, creating personalized portfolios, problem solving, resilience and project-based learning. This will enable them to find a sense of academic freedom, which they would have missed in restricted confines of their homes. Senior students have already lost 60% of schooling in the last two years. On school return, we have to help them not only through remedial and other supportive practices in learning but also in coping with their own emotional and physical needs. These are extraordinary times and need extra ordinary measures. States and boards will have to look at how to assess what children have learnt in the missing two years. The entire school will become a place of audits from health, hygiene, environment, learning to emotional needs. All areas will need to be handled professionally and with sensitivity.
Dr. Ameeta Mulla Wattal is the author, chairperson and executive director of Education, Innovations and Training, DLF Foundation Schools and Scholarship Programmes. Views expressed are personal.

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