Eighty per cent of the children in India aged 14 to 18 years reported to have low levels of learning when they are physically out of school, a similar trend seen across all of South Asia countries, said a new UNICEF research.
Despite efforts by governments and partners to expand remote learning, the UNICEF said that school closures due to the Covid 19 pandemic led to alarming inequities in learning opportunities for children in South Asia. The UN Organisation held the research in India, Pakistan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
The UNICEF in their research point out that learning was interrupted for 434 million children. The UN Organisation said that 69 per cent of parents of primary school children in Sri Lanka reported that their children were learning “less” or “a lot less.” It said that girls, children from the most disadvantaged households and children with disabilities faced the biggest challenges while learning remotely.
UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia George Laryea-Adjei noted that school closures in South Asia due to Covid 19 forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to go for remote learning in a region with low connectivity and device affordability. “Even when a family has access to technology, children are not always able to access it. As a result, children suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey,” Laryea-Adjei said.
Despite significant efforts from governments, low connectivity and access to digital devices have severely hampered efforts to roll out remote learning. The researchers found that 42 per cent of children between 6 and 13 years in India did not use any type of remote learning during school closures. Similarly, 23 per cent of younger children in Pakistan did not have access to any device that could support remote learning.
Even when devices are available, UNICEF’s research indicates that they are often underutilized and that children’s access to them is often limited. In Pakistan, among children with access to devices, only about 24 per cent could use them when they wanted to.
The researchers found that student-teacher engagement, when regular and reciprocal, was a strong predictor of success in children’s learning, especially for younger students. However, surveys found that most students had little or no contact with their teachers after schools closed. In Sri Lankan private primary schools, 52 per cent of teachers reported contacting their students five days a week, but this number dropped to eight per cent for teachers from public primary schools.
George Laryea-Adjei pointed out that safe reopening of schools must be considered an utmost priority for all governments. “Investing in teachers will ensure that teachers and schools can adapt to all situations. The more teachers are trained, equipped and supported on distance and blended learning, the better they will be able to reach all their students. This is a critical investment we need to make for children as the region gears up for future waves of COVID-19. We need to build systems which can weather any storm and keep children learning, no matter the circumstances,” said the UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia
- Governments should prioritise the safe reopening of all schools, while also ensuring that children are able to pursue quality learning remotely if necessary
- Teachers should assess children’s learning levels and ensure catch up is enabled through a “learning recovery” period
- Governments should prioritise the vaccination of teachers to support the safe reopening of schools
- Governments should train and equip teachers to better reach children and adolescents with limited or no access to technology through a combination of modalities including mobile devices, TV, radio, and printed materials
- Governments and donors should protect and expand investments in education, including critical pre-primary and foundational literacy and numeracy
- Private sector and civil society organizations should work with governments in improving connectivity and creating high-quality, multilingual remote learning content tailored to students’ needs
- School administrators and education officials should provide more guidance to teachers to engage with their students and use different types of learning techniques
- Parents and caregivers should receive adequate support and guidance to continue home-based learning