The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of schools have affected the learning abilities and access to nutrition for students in Tamil Nadu, a survey has found. Online and televised classes are neither effective nor engaging, a survey by the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) said.
The dangerous trend of 11% of students dropping out of schools and 13% left with no other option but to resort to child labour, has rung warning bells. Working parents have also raised apprehensions over the safety of the girl child at home alone for long periods due to the closure of schools.
Admissions to government schools have also increased, purely due to the inability of the parents to afford the fees at private schools.
As many as 95% of the children surveyed in the state want to go back to school, a move which will require urgent and creative intervention by the government. Academicians have already warned of an adverse impact if the normal practice of pushing students beyond their limits in trying to finish the syllabus and make up for lost time.
The statewide survey covered each district and had a sample size of 2,137 students of which 44% were girls. While 31% belonged to Scheduled Caste communities, 32% belonged to backward classes and 30% are from the most backward classes of society.
About 89% of the sampled students – considered to be vulnerable – were in primary and middle school and were aged under 14 years.
'11% NOT SHIFTED TO NEXT LEVEL OF SCHOOLING'
N. Mani, president of TNSF, the state unit of the All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN), said that at least 11% of the students have not got themselves admitted to the next level of schooling.
"Those who have passed the fifth and eighth grade have not enrolled themselves for the next levels. This has to be considered as the dropout percentage. The lack of awareness and intervention from the education department has led to this sorry state," he said.
Close to 95% of students said they missed going to school and wanted to get back at the earliest. "This is a good sign but the danger of drop outs after schools open is still high," Mani said.
CHILD LABOUR AND LOSS OF WEIGHT WORRYING
The survey also found that even while remaining on school rolls, 13% of students have resorted to child labour. Of this about 60% work for more than 12 hours a day and half of them earn less than Rs 200 per day.
S.P. Balakrishnan, state secretary of TNSF and the coordinator of the survey, said the engagement of children for work done by parents and agricultural work was worrying.
"The girl children are involved more in household jobs and support their parents, more than boys. While boys get more time to play, the girl students are stressed due to being confined inside homes after their parents leave for their daily jobs," he added.
The safety of girl children has also been highlighted in the survey, with 45% of their parents feeling the children were insecure while being alone at home.
Another disturbing finding was the lack of midday meals for students since schools have been closed.
"Close to 39% of the students have lost weight after the closure of schools in March 2020. The percentage could be even higher in tribal and rural hamlets. The government missed an important aspect, which was ensuring the distribution of nutritious food to children in their villages as was done by the government of Kerala," said Moses Prabhu, Thiruvallur district secretary of TNSF.
Girl students expressed their dejection over the unavailability of napkins to them as another factor that had an impact on them during the COVID-19 lockdown.
"The students were given an egg per day as part of the midday meals scheme. They have missed it for months together, affecting their nutrition balance," Mani added.
The loss of jobs or income of parents also have played a role in the availability of healthy food to the children.
'ONLINE AND TELEVISED CLASSES A FAILURE'
Around 49% of the students have said they attended the online classes and 41% listen to the televised classes through the Kalvi TV, a state-run television channel.
"These are the students who attend these classes occasionally. Another important finding is that 56% said that they don't understand these classes, which is unproductive,'' Balakrishnan said.
The lack of interaction with teachers over a prolonged period has played a role in dimming the learning ability of the students.
Students are happy attending part-time and evening classes run by TNSF in different parts of the state. The closure of schools has widened the gap between education and students, and TNSF has tried to bridge this.
"We ran 12 study centres in Thiruvallur district which the students found very engaging. We trained them in activities including painting, basic grammar, mathematics and reading practices." Prabhu said.
'FACILITATE ACTIVITY-BASED LEARNING'
In a highly positive outcome, 95% of students are desperate to get back to school. "But, the education system itself is considered a threat by the students and academicians," said Balakrishnan.
The students feel that activity and game-based education for a few months after schools reopen will help in getting them adjusted to the 'new normal'.
"Around 77% of the students feel classrooms are more suitable in facilitating their learning process. If syllabi is dumped on them to fill the loss due to the pandemic, it would be a disaster," Mani said.
The TNSF has also called for the strengthening of infrastructure in government schools considering the increase of enrollment.
"The government should ensure adequate facilities and teachers in schools to retain the students in schools," Mani demanded.