After almost twenty-two months of coping with the pandemic, as we step into the new year, three perspectives seem to have emerged about school education. (Let us see whether the current Omicron wave changes these views or not.)
According to the first point of view, when schools open and children are back in school, normal and usual school practices should be re-established. Teachers pick up textbooks for each grade and each subject; teaching-learning is anchored, as it was before COVID, to grade level curricular expectations. Examinations and assessments move ahead, pretty much like before. This school of thought accepts that although the pandemic brought in its wake, tremendous trouble and turmoil, when these difficulties recede, “business as usual” can prevail.
The second perspective is held by those who feel that the pandemic has pushed us back in history. For ten years, pre-COVID, more than 96% of children of elementary school age were enrolled in school. Universal enrollment had practically been achieved. But now, after more than 600 days of school closure, the progress of the last decade may be in jeopardy. There is a high possibility of school drop-out. Among those for whom economic disruption was the hardest, children may not re-enroll in school. Families who were economically week and educationally disadvantaged have been the hardest hit.
Proponents of the third approach accept that the combined effect of the pandemic and of school closures has been devastating and the country will take time to recover. But they also believe that the prolonged, unprecedented situation led to experimentation and innovation. New methods were tried, new skills have been acquired, new lessons have been learned. New people have come into the picture. To strengthen the future of our children, these new learnings and experiences must be integrated into future plans.
Dear reader, which of these pathways are you aligned with? Do you think the train had stopped and now it has restarted, carrying passengers forward on their journey – just the way it used to do before? Or do you believe that the train has fallen off the tracks, passengers have been hurt – we need to nurse them back to health, get the train back on the tracks and then the journey can be resumed again. Or do you think that the journey has changed completely?
It is essential to reflect and make sense of the last two years. We need to do this in our families, in our communities and at state and national levels too. Heads and hearts have to be used for understanding what has just happened and for linking it to what can be done for the future. Our hands will do what our heads tell us and hearts inspire us to do.
The first perspective encourages teachers to pick up textbooks and start where they had left off. The second group is busy listening to parents and their troubles and helping children cope with the situation – all of this is part of bringing children back to school. The third team is looking at schooling and learning, goals and practices in a new light. Dealing with the pandemic has made them completely rethink the “why”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “who” and “how” of education and come up with new solutions.
So which school of thought are you part of?
Rukmini Banerji, Dec 2021
An earlier version of this piece in Hindi was published in Dainik Bhaskar