Kolkata: A report on primary education amid the pandemic in West Bengal, published by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s Pratichi (India) Trust, has highlighted the issues faced by teachers and students as they grapple with the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 72-page report highlights the problems confronted by students in accessing digital education and learning and reflects the condition of the public-funded education system. Pratichi (India) trust is a non-profit body setup with the Nobel prize money of Prof Amartya Sen and is engaged in doing yeomen work about primary education in eastern India and India as a whole.
The findings are based on experiences over six months during the first wave of the pandemic (April to November 2020) shared by primary school teachers.
More than numbers or statistical evidences, the reports are an assimilation of presentations by teachers who were in touch with 1,500 students and is a slice of the reality of education system during this period, one of the contributors to the report, Urba Choudhury told NewsClick.
She has written in detail about the experience of some guardians who were forced to trudge over 7-8 kms to get the ration allocated for their wards under the midday meal scheme during the first phase of COVID-19 induced lockdown. The situation further deteriorated during the second phase.
Another primary school teacher has written that nearly 90% of the guardians of students from her primary school did not have access to internet or even a cellphone, limiting their access to education at a time when teaching shifted to the digital mode. The teacher notes that most of these parents consist of daily wage workers engaged in menial jobs, and underscored the importance of government intervention in such cases.
With onset of the second wave and continued lockdowns due to it, teachers have also reported to facing a question about whether the schools will never reopen. The report also deals with the anxiety expressed by the guardians of students attending the public funded education system about the fate of their children’s education.
Also read: India’s Digital Divide: Who Faces it and How Wide is it?
The report also presents the challenges taken by a large number of teachers to connect with their students by visiting them regularly and arranging sit-ins with them in lanes and bylanes of the mohallas or in a corner of local club or mandirs. It reflects the attitude of teachers who do not aspire to get their salary sitting idly and are committed to their students, even though it is difficult to bridge the infrastructural gap.
Further, the digital divide has aggravated the divide between haves and have nots, as children attending state-run primary school have been unable to continue their education.
Meanwhile, the New Education Policy for school education in the country introduced amid the pandemic may lead to the elimination of many local schools due to mergers. This will add to the already existing hurdles in accessing education through the public education system.
The authors of the report which include Manabi Majumdar, Urba Chaudhuri, Kakali Das De and Sutapa Ghosh, among others highlight that it is time to start the return of students to schools.