As students return to schools after the lifting of the pandemic-enforced curbs, it’s becoming increasingly evident that classrooms will have to be re-imagined to address the disruption caused by the public health emergency. Survey after survey has confirmed the worst fears of educationists — the switch to online classes in the past two years has had negative impacts on children’s ability to read, comprehend texts and do simple sums. In the last week of May, the National Achievement Survey (NAS), shone a light on the worrying regression in the learning capabilities of students across subjects and grades. Now a series of reports in this paper shows that each child returning to a Delhi government school poses a unique challenge to the teacher — the students not only have varying levels of competencies and learning, but almost every one of them has been scarred differently by the pandemic.
Most educational policy documents — including the New Education Policy 2020 — have talked of student and teacher-centric approaches. However, the syllabus has continued to exercise a strong hold on pedagogic practices. This will have to change in the post-pandemic classroom. There are indications that government school teachers in Delhi are alive to the need for letting students recover lost ground at their own pace. The teacher is doubling up as a counselor, even as a friend who is sensitive to the needs of students requiring special attention. The improved learning environment also owes much to the Delhi government’s initiative to strengthen the foundational skills of children during the summer vacations. But these are early days and plugging the learning gaps is likely to demand more innovative approaches from teachers, school administrators and policymakers.
For a large number of children in the country, a school is not only a center for education, but it’s also a place where they get nutrition through the mid-day meal scheme (MDMS). During the school shutdown, the Center directed states to substitute these meals with dry rations or cash for students. But, by all accounts, the implementation of the scheme was patchy during the pandemic years. Now a report in this paper has shown that the Delhi government did not budget for the increased demand for mid-day meals during the pandemic when government school enrollment increased, most likely because of the economic distress suffered by a section of the parents. The post-Covid educational recovery will hinge not only on pedagogic practices but also on how the health and nutritional requirements of the child are catered to. The MDMS — lauded by educators for incentivising parents to send their children to schools — will be critical to the endeavour. The Delhi story holds valuable lessons for educators and school administrators in the rest of the country. They would do well to learn lessons in classroom autonomy from Delhi government school teachers. At the same time, they must recognize that there cannot be a uniform template for recovery.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on June 8, 2022 under the title ‘Classroom test’.