With India slowly stating to open up its economy back up , following months of nationwide Covid-19 lockdown . A vast majority of the relief and rehabillation packages announced in these months . However , the education system has remained absent from the effort , including in India’s central government’s 250 billion dollar stimulus package . The implications of lockdown –induced school and health care centres closure on education and health outcomes on both rural and urban poor . This closure has come at a critical point in the education calendar of India, marked by school final assessments, school leaving examinations and entrance tests for undergraduate and post-graduate courses . What does this disruption imply for students across the socio-economic spectrum, both in terms of learning outcomes and food and economic security, and how can policymakers mitigate these impacts?
The major impacts are on –
- Impacts on dropout rate: According to UNESCO, approximately 0.32 billion students in India have been affected by school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic (UNESCO 2020) Of these, almost 84% reside in rural areas while 70% attend government schools. short term disruptions in schooling often lead to permanent dropouts among the poor. One reason for this is the loss of parents’ employment for which child labour is leveraged as a substitute. The inevitable economic backlash of the lockdown is likely to reduce the earning capacity for many poor households and may increase the opportunity cost of sending children to school, especially in rural India. As a result, children may be pushed into the labour market. Dropout rates are more severe in case of girls as they get additional burden of taking care of house , these shocks have also impacted marginalized tribal children also .
- Impact on inequality and disparity: A key step taken by some educational institutions to ensure continuation of curriculum has been to shift lectures online, requiring both students and teachers to use personal home computers and reliable internet. If school and university examinations happen as scheduled, without compensatory classes, it is likely to disadvantage students who cannot access these computer and network resources. However, postponement of examinations can cause a delay for students in entering the job market.
The higher the use of internet and online learning will create and increase disparity .
iii) Impact on food security: One of the most important consequences of the lockdown and subsequent school closures has been the temporary suspension of mid-day meals and supplementary nutrition programs, which has widespread and important implications for the nutrition and food security of children across the nation. The Mid-day Meal (MDM) program in India is the largest school feeding program in the world ,catering to about 144 million children, with approximately 80% coverage across primary school students. . In case of economically disadvantaged families, MDM’s school meals act more as a substitute rather than a complementary meal, protecting against endemic hunger for the entire family. The months of lockdown in India have already caused supply chain disruptions in the agriculture sector, leading to food shortages (Reardon et al. 2020). Interruption in school feeding programs is thus likely to exacerbate food insecurity, particularly for those who are already under-nourished, especially girls, who like older women, eat last and eat less at home, compared to boys and men. Similarly, disruption in the supplementary nutrition program delivered under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme is likely to affect over 100 million pregnant and lactating mothers, and children under the age of 6, who rely on Anganwadi centres (rural child care centres) for both cooked meals and take home rations to meet basic nutritional needs. Lack of access to school feeding and supplementary nutrition programs is likely to further endanger already precarious food security for urban and rural poor, which may cause long term economic and health impacts .
The way forward
- The government should focuss on home delivered meals/dry ration to school and Angadwadi children in country would have benefit millions of children and expecting mothers.
- Measures should be taken including data packages for students, TV broadcasted classes and regular SMS/IVR to parents for daily activities with children .
- Along with interventions in the education sector, initiatives are also needed to cushion the economic impact on poor families to discourage the use of child labour along with monitoring mechanisms set up to ensure children remain in school,whenever they re-open.
- There is also the issue of mental stress and trauma that young children may be facing, both as a result of reduced mobility due to the lockdown and the economic stress being faced by families- an issue that has remained largely absent from the current discourse. collaborative effort between the public sector, the private sector,and the civil society would be critical for educational and social rehabilitation of affected children.
- As health and economy occupies the centre stage, educational and nutritional considerations must not be forgotten so as to not undo the hard-earned gains in these sectors over the past few decades.
BIO : Prateek is a promising budding writer who has broad knowledge on topic ranging from economics to environment. He writes with fact and figures on command and expresses his view with courage and conviction. He is an economics graduate from Zakir Hussain Evening College student and a apt learner.