The corona pandemic has affected the whole world irrespective of caste, color, race, religion, or culture. However the magnitude of its impact has been biased. In the end, it became a fight of class – between the haves and have not’s. When the fortunate are sitting in AC rooms working out in treadmill; the less fortunate are walking hundreds of miles in the scorching sun to reach home. When the sons and daughters of the fortunate’s attend online classes and webinars in Skype and Zoom, the less fortunate’s sons and daughters carry their younger ones and walk miles. When the fortunate’s flaunt their quarantine period making videos of their lifestyle, the daily wage earners worries about what to eat. If the fortunate’s die of the virus, the less fortunate’s dying because of the virus, hunger, and apathy of the state and poor and insensitive implementation strategies. When the lockdown itself is biased do you think the post lockdown will be any better?
In economic terms, now the market is adversely impacted. Production is hit, consumption is reduced, employment will be reduced, the companies will start wage cut policies to sustain. Since both public and private sector is hit there will be a stagnation in investment and the government will be spending most of the relief packages and rebuilding the already hit economy. In the end, it’s the common man and his family who will bear the price. It’s his job which is lost, it’s his wage which is cut, and it’s his children whose studies will be affected. Let me take your attention to tribal education. I am talking about the government schools where the sons and daughters of the less fortunate study.
There is a high chance that the education of the tribal children will be at stake after the post COVID era. For instance we are talking about the children who study in government schools with no electricity, go to schools for the mid-day meal, no learning happening from home because the parents are illiterate and priorities are otherwise, children whose levels are substandard and learning outcomes are far away from what is required. Loss in the number of classes, falling back from mainstream education in comparison with urban children, and lack of trained teachers and poor policy decisions. The girl – boy child education disparity is being feared that it will grow disproportionately. But all these issues needed to be addressed; else the already torn tribal education will be facing challenges on another level.
First, since the corona cases are still growing in India there are high chances that schools will not be open in the coming months and hence there will be loss in class room time for the tribal children because like in the urban area there is no possible way in which online-based classes can be conducted.
For example, in Sukma there are houses where there is no network coverage. The family can’t afford smartphones or computers given their financial background. Also, there is no electricity.
Second, even if the classes restart after months, given the economic situation of the country and the wage cuts and loss in employment, will they sent their children to daily wage work (in some cases even bonded labour) where they fetch money and supports the family or will they sent them to schools and lose the chance of getting additional income. Schooling is still a means to help the child get meals and for the parents to be free of the responsibility of looking after them for most. When pitted against en cashing on their labour – the parents of these first generation learners will perhaps topple to the other side. Mass drop outs recorded should not be surprising.
Third, in case the schools are reopened after months, loss in working days in schools will add up to the already substandard level of learning with poor learning outcome and the teachers with the urge to finish the academic works as well as syllabus which will again put the learning of these children at stake and the education yet again becomes for namesake.
Stating the problem and the usual rhetoric of government should proactively make policies is not my cup of tea. Also, presently it is not in my area of influence or control. I propose to find solutions to these issues with few suggestions for the three possible scenarios discussed above.
The first scenario can be overcome by innovative solutions since social distancing will have to be practiced in the future. The idea is to maintain social distancing and yet provide quality hassle-free education to the children. If the villages lack electricity, subsidized solar panels can be installed in chat rooms like structure which we see in internet café’s where the children can study and attend online classes – webinars also maintain social distance. This can become an appendage in schools or can be installed in a village which can be linked to National Solar Mission and the center and state can share the expense and responsibility – hence ownership. The students can take turns and learn in the booths. A pilot project can be set in one of the villages and can figure out if it’s a sustainable model in the future of the educational landscape.
The government can also ask innovative educations start-ups like BYJU’s to provide free subscription or government can bear the expense for the education of tribal children. This can work in primary, secondary, and higher secondary levels. Another solution where a dedicated channel for learning can be introduced which can be watched from TV, phones, or computers where time slots can be allotted for each class and they can tune in during the given slots. Kerala government is planning to provide such programs for the students so that the education is not hampered.
Preventing dropouts since the family needs money for sustenance because of the wage cuts can be hard but here we need to cater to the priorities of the families – strengthening the mid-day meals and delivering food packages can be one way this can be dealt with. Another solution is providing tabs to the children with inbuilt apps for learning according to the state learning outcomes and then making attendance and enrolling in the classroom should be made the top priority in getting the free tabs for learning. The tabs and such gadgets can easily attract the students since its new way for them and thereby ensuring that they will be present in schools rather than in fields. This also is not real time and hence dependence on data network can be minimized.
Education cannot be neglected in these areas because they are already far behind the mainstream education. Corona pandemic is a reality and we must act, accepting the reality, rather than thinking about everything will be back to normal and only aim at status quo. The new-age problems need to be addressed differently to meet the emerging new normal and hence new-age solutions should also be implemented to ensure quality education in the tribal areas. If anything, the pandemic is a chance, for us to do what we have not managed to, yet.
*All images are for representation purpose only from open sources.