Earlier pandemics alike, the current corona virus is largely impacting all kinds of education – related structures at all levels, from pre-school to post-higher secondary or college. It started, initially with the closure of schools, colleges and universities and hoped to continue further for some time to come. It is estimated that about 1.725 billion people who need and desire to learn more got affected due to closure of educational institutions and weak structure of online learning facility. As per a report monitored by the UNICEF, nationwide lockdown have been implemented in 134 countries while 38 counties are under the lockdown of local arrangements. The continued and large-scale closure of schools and colleges has badly affected the education of 98.5% students because only 39 countries are running their schools. In addition, the closure of educational institutions cast a long dark shadow in socio- economic spheres such as student debt, digital learning, food insecurity, homelessness, childcare, health care, housing, internet services and disability services. Although the situation was bad in general but more severe especially for disadvantaged children and their families who have no fixed job at all. In this phase of pandemic and closure of educational institutions, the UNESCO has suggested adopting online and open learning to check the damages and reach the remote learners in a big way.
History of educational system in pandemic
From the beginning of this infectious disease, closing of schools and other educational institutions had been an effective method of checking the spread of virus at large scale, but it is more fruitful when closed at an early date. In addition, all precautions should also be maintained while opening the schools after the ease of the situation. The world witnessed first such infectious disease called influenza pandemic in the year 1918-1919 in which the United States of America was quick in closing schools and got benefit of reaching the peak late with low mortality rate in totality. The US was also wise enough to implement this method in afterwards. Schools were closed early. In pursuance of Spanish flu, Asian flu erupted in 1957-58 and influenza in 2004-2008. Following the example of the US during the H1N1 Flu pandemic of 2009 other countries like Japan, France and United Kingdom took the benefit of early closing of schools and colleges. It helped them in reducing the total number of infected students. In general, the mandatory closure of schools and obeying of other social distancing measures minimized their transmission rates up to 29% to 37%. In the context, the US had adopted two-pronged strategy, to close schools for short -term if there is a case of cleaning or disinfection of school building and if aimed to minimize or moderate the rate of community transmission, several methods of social distancing like cancelling of field trips, mass assembling, avoid meals in cafeteria and space between desks are adopted and implemented.
In the case of current Covid-19, which has been declared by the WHO a pandemic, China was the first country where the virus appeared in November- December 2019 and it closed schools, colleges including the Spring Festival holiday in the whole country on 26 January where till March 5,2020, about 233 million learners were affected.
Profile of school closing in Covid-19
In today’s life the online learning has become the lifeline of whole educational system and its importance has increased recently due to the ongoing pandemic which has affected all walks of life including the education of school and college level. Because the educational institutions avoid gathering and maintain social distancing, it is essential for both – students as well as teachers to access the latest technology of online learning. It helps them to know beyond the fixed limits of textbooks with a variety of materials and a new vision to look forward. In this phase of pandemic and lockdown schools are organizing online classes via video telephony software like zoom and other methods. However, as all students are not access to technology and most of them in rural areas are unable to afford particularly who belong to disadvantaged families. Although, the UNESCO has recommended several learning programmes to minimise the negative effects of pandemic, the closure of libraries is also a factor to be kept in mind. The students who have no internet facility at home are the most sufferers during the Covid–19. Keeping in view the difficulty of students and teachers the International Council for Open and Distance Education has provided special websites to conduct webinars, tips for online teaching – learning materials. Countries like USA, New Zealand, Australia, France and Netherlands have also made available a wide variety of techniques for the easy access of education to all, including residents of rural students.
Other issues related to the closing of schools are- childcare, nutrition and food security and students learning outcomes. These all affect the learning process of teachers and students. Generally, parents leave their children when schools are closed and in absence of any other alternative options, they become indecent in their behavior. Suspension of childcare homes in several countries is a matter of common concern which we cannot ignore for long. For school children, next to childcare is the problem of nutrition and food security and about 30 million students depend on the free or subsidized food provided by the Government schools all over the world. The schemes make learners sound physically and mentally to prepare them for academic performance. As the schools all over the world are closed due to Covid-19, most of the families are unable to give their children proper and nutritious food. During the pandemic, several countries have arranged separate food packaging for school goers. Hence, they are bound to take less qualitative and under nutrition food at home due to closure of schools.
Negative effects on learning process
In fact, closing of schools all over the globe has broken the regular chain of learning with the help of books and teachers available in schools. The situation is disadvantageous for those children who have no learning resource at home and around. For them the only place of knowing theoretical and practical education is their schools where they learn all things relevant for their life and career. In addition, their speed of learning at home is also very slow in comparison to school days where they learn vastly with entertainment. Everywhere in the world schools are developed as a centre of social interaction but students at home miss the opportunity of their socialization which helps them in the development of learning capability. However, among all is the increased rate of school dropouts who will never return to the school again because of delinking for a long time and this loss is permanent on the part of those who are disabled, at risk, or homeless. Thus, for most of them it is a loss of opportunity forever. These apart, the universal closure of schools have debarred them from many academic activities which are usually conducted during educational trips, attending summer schools, visiting libraries and participating in various literacy-rich summer activities. In nutshell, closure of schools is not good, but at the same time it is a life-saving step and hence question arises.
(Author is Professor & Head, Department of Political Science, B.N. Mandal University, Madhepura Bihar)