Interaction with learners

Learning crisis: a major challenge beyond the reopening of schools

PERSPECTIVE

Ultimately, formal schooling should start now after a protected shutdown, obviously due to the global outbreak of Covid-19. It was nothing short of a distraction and devastation on many fronts of life, livelihood and learning. After death, the loss of academics is most pronounced, even in the best of developed societies with fair school funding, systemic dynamism, and some of the best broadband access rates in the world. Beyond passing exams, home learning has had little to no incremental impact, as almost everyone has experienced – upper, middle and lower classes.

Today, it is essentially a strong and inclusive education system to recover from the learning crisis to avoid academic vacuum in the times to come. There was a global consensus that the education systems of too many countries could not provide the quality education needed to ensure that all had the skills to thrive. It is the poorest children who have borne the brunt of the situation and have not mastered the expected skills, except for a meager part.

Keeping students away from formal schooling for more than two semesters is detrimental. Interacting with students who were better at their studies and disciplined during the pre-pandemic days revealed shocking impressions. Deconceptualization was visibly marked by an erosion of values, norms and standards. It’s a disaster to do. School also plays a role beyond textbook completion. It is an institution for developing the personal and social qualities of students to face the difficult challenges ahead in life. Allowing schools to close for years together is unimaginable, but it happened, and so does the fallout now. The role of the school as an agent of change and socialization is at the heart of the concept of schooling. And, the fact is that a large number of students have never been online, not even for statistics. They had been left in the uneducated world, a potential diversion to drug addiction, bewilderment and peer countercultural rebellion.

Children, even raised under conscious and controlled parenting, now pose new challenges in the absence of formal schooling. Those who do not have an active academic and social support system at home are in deep academic crisis. They felt ultra free to enjoy school, innocently. Their innocence could turn into a great catastrophe if they are not intercepted and their continuity in the atmosphere of free will is restricted.

Community classes could not become an alternative to real classes. The exercise was voluntary. A student, if desired, joins these classes. They weren’t too mature to understand the value of time or the importance of schooling. And the teachers could not force them to attend. It was found that less than half of the students attended these voluntary classes. And it was all just a matter of academic support, leaving other important personality dimensions unchecked.

Laboratories, ICT labs and libraries remained closed. The understanding of certain scientific concepts cannot be possible without being concretely demonstrated in the laboratory. Thus, the practical understanding of some complex concepts will lag behind. From now on, laboratories and classrooms will have to struggle to go together for not having been in confluence for a long time.

The lively sessions of morning assemblies, debates and discussions essentially polish the students to be influential and creative beings. It’s more than being informative and knowledgeable in the contemporary competitive atmosphere that demands something different, something unique. But, this important part of the transmission of education, the soul of the school, had to be closed in August 2019 in this part of the globe. When soul creation exercises have been suspended for years, it requires a strengthened school system that puts in place a strong learning mechanism to help learners grow and develop a wide range of skills and abilities to inside and outside the school.

Such a school would excel in academics, gather support, and utilize technology that empowers community allies, from parents to employers, to enhance, complement, and bring new experiences to life in a more affective and supportive ecosystem. It must recognize and adapt to the learning that takes place outside its walls, regularly assessing student skills and adapting learning opportunities to meet students at their skill level. These new allies in children’s learning should actively help teachers kick-start the engine of school growth.

It will also be difficult to ensure that children remain in schools after reopening. This is true of a large education gap and when economic shocks have put pressure on students to work and generate income for families in financial difficulty during the unprecedented shutdown. These students could adopt income, so it is very difficult for them to come back with heart and fill in the gaps. This is likely to increase dropouts. The possibility requires serious follow-up with a number of unlearnings. Persistent unschooling could have resulted in such learning that must be unlearned and abandoned. Of course, there could be new learnings in the new normal that could be unwanted attitudinal acquisitions or imperfect understanding of concepts amidst the disstructured system that has arisen due to prolonged non-schooling.

Consoling the students, listening to them, giving them enough time to readapt to schools with a pleasant environment is essential, but relying on it is not enough. The learning crisis can only be overcome by these adorable gestures. We need a robust mechanism for strong academic elevation and standard behavioral change. Expert opinions must be pooled to come up with a good enough and purely pro-academic package of innovative pedagogical approaches with specific objectives identified to manage the learning crisis caused by the unprecedented disruption.

(The author is a regular senior columnist for Rising Kashmir and can be reached at: [email protected])