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Repeated school closures due to COVID-19 leading to learning loss and widening inequities in India, says latest UNICEF research

School closures in South Asia due to the COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted the learning of 434 million children.

SNS | New Delhi |

According to a latest UNICEF research, in India, due to repeated school closures due to COVID- 19 is leading to learning loss and widening inequities. The research further claims that 80 per cent of children in India aged 14-18 years reported lower levels of learning than when physically at school.

School closures in South Asia due to the COVID-19 pandemic have interrupted the learning of 434 million children. According to UNICEF’s research, a substantial proportion of students and their parents reported that students learnt significantly less compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Despite significant efforts from governments, low connectivity and access to digital devices have severely hampered efforts to roll out remote learning. In India, 42 per cent of children between 6-13 years reported not using any type of remote learning during school closures. In Pakistan 23 per cent of younger children didn’t have access to any device that could support remote learning. Poor and disadvantaged households have been the worst hit, with many families struggling to afford even a single device.

Even when devices are available, UNICEF’s research indicates that they are often underutilized and that children’s access to them is often limited.

The research found that student-teacher engagement, when regular and reciprocal, is a strong predictor of success in children’s learning, especially for younger students. However, the surveys found that most students had little or no contact with their teachers after schools closed.

To ensure that children keep learning, UNICEF is calling on:

  • Governments to prioritize the safe reopening of all schools, while also ensuring that children are able to pursue quality learning remotely if necessary
  • Teachers to assess children’s learning levels and ensure catch up is enabled through a “learning recovery” period
  • Governments to prioritize the vaccination of teachers to support the safe reopening of schools
  • Governments to train and equip teachers to better reach children and adolescents with limited or no access to technology through a combination of modalities including mobile devices, TV, radio, and printed materials
  • Governments and donors to protect and expand investments in education, including critical pre-primary and foundational literacy and numeracy
  • Private sector and civil society organizations to work with governments in improving connectivity and creating high-quality, multilingual remote learning content tailored to students’ needs
  • School administrators and education officials to provide more guidance to teachers to engage with their students and use different types of learning techniques
  • Parents and caregivers to receive adequate support and guidance to continue home-based learning

School closures in South Asia have compounded a situation which was already precarious. Even before the pandemic, almost 60 per cent of children in South Asia were unable to read and understand a simple text by the time they are 10 years old. In addition, 12.5 million children at the primary level and 16.5 million children at the lower secondary level were out of school.

Speaking on school reopening, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative, UNICEF India said, “Going to school is a central part of children’s life. The prolonged school closure due to COVID-19 has caused many children to miss out on learning, social interaction and playtime which are essential to their overall development and well being. Safe and gradual reopening of schools in the states of India is a welcome move as children learn best in person and this will help prevent further learning loss and alleviate some of the pscychological stress they are facing. The safety element is critical, Teachers, parents, children and communities can work together along with the Government, to put in place the protocols needed for children to return to schools and learn in a safe environment.”

School closures have led to alarming inequities in learning opportunities for children in South Asia, despite significant efforts by governments and partners to expand remote learning, according to UNICEF research conducted in India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.