Preventing the learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe should have been the top priority for our leaders and the entire education community.
By Laishram Nandalal*
Education sector has been caught totally off-guard by COVID-19 virus with most educational institutes and teachers grappling to ensure education continuity. Education systems around the world were swift to react and adapt. However, the lack of resources and poor internet connectivity has deprived many children and youth in Manipur of access to learning. Only a few private and missionary schools in Manipur have adopted online methods of teaching and learning. This exercise of knowledge transmission is concentrated only in the areas with better internet connectivity, exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by cutting the opportunities for many from economically weaker sections to access learning.
Most of the children in government schools have missed out on early childhood education in their critical year. They thus missed a stimulating and enriching environment, learning opportunities, social interaction and in some cases adequate nutrition. This is likely to compromise their longer-term healthy development, especially those children from poor and disadvantaged families.
In the higher education sector, some universities in major cities of India have adopted online teaching to ensure learning and teaching continuity. Though they had faced some unfamiliar technical constraints while transitioning from conventional to online teaching, such difficulties have been overcome gradually as one gets familiar with the technology. Online classes are going on in full swing turning every house having school or college-going children into a virtual classroom.
In Manipur, the story is altogether different. Teaching and learning in higher education has been totally put to a halt since March, due to the lack of information technology infrastructure for both students and teachers. Higher education has become totally inaccessible for learning in Manipur though some teachers try to ensure learning continuity at their personal level by providing reading materials and recorded lectures to their students. A teacher in Dhanamanjuri University shared that he has experimented with online teaching through Google Meet and Zoom to transmit knowledge to his students. His attempt proved futile due connectivity problems as majority of his students stay put in their villages where connectivity is a big issue.
From the government’s side, no effort, except an inclusive joint consultative meeting on education, is visible to maintain continuity of teaching and learning during the pandemic. In the consultative meeting held at City Convention in Imphal on June 30, Education Minister Thokchom Radheshyam said, “We’re right in the middle of a war, but with an unknown enemy.” He stressed upon the role of parents, guardians and teachers to provide better quality education to the students in these unprecedented times of COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minister also appealed to all the stakeholders to provide suggestions and solutions whether there would be shifts in the classes both in higher and lower schools; whether the current syllabi would be reduced to adjust the academic calendar, and whether a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) should apply to school children. However, the consultative meeting, which was taken part by heads of the educational institutes, parents, teaching community and students’ organisations, concluded without any recommendations or resolutions.
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare has allowed a phased reopening of schools and colleges, including entrepreneurship training from September 21, provided the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) announced by the Health Ministry is strictly adhered to. The SOP outlines various generic precautionary measures to be adopted in addition to specific measures to be taken when schools are permitting students for IX to XII class, to prevent spread of COVID-19. Attendance for students will be voluntary and only to seek guidance from teachers. This will be subject to the written consent of their parents/guardians. Such visits and teacher-student interaction must be organized in a staggered manner, said SOP issued by the health ministry.
The ministry further said, “Online/distance learning shall continue to be permitted and shall be encouraged.”
With no online and distance learning system in Manipur, only the option to ensure learning continuity would be reopening of schools, which is unlikely anytime soon looking at the present Covid scenario .. If lack of information technology infrastructure for both students and teachers hampers transition to online classes as revealed by a teacher, the government could have explored distance learning solutions in Manipur.
They must not passively sit back and observe what plays out by saying they were not prepared for this change. They must put in massive efforts to respond to the shocks to education systems t. Otherwise, this crisis in the education sector could turn into a generational catastrophe. Preventing the learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe should have been a top priority for our leaders and the entire education community.
*(Laishram Nandalal is Associate Editor, The Frontier Manipur)