Watch: Schools to Face Worst Crisis Ever When They Reopen But Govts Not Focusing on This

In conversation with Anurag Behar, vice-chancellor of Azim Premji University.

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In a message to schools, governments and also parents, vice-chancellor of Azim Premji University Anurag Behar has said when schools open after 16-17 months of closure, they will find that “education has never faced a crisis of this kind”. This, he continued, will be “a real emergency”.

This is because very few students have actually maintained a serious level of study during the COVID-19-induced closures, he said. Worse, many of the returning children will have forgotten what they were taught before schools closed. “The learning regression is staggering,” according to Behar. Although this is a challenge that teachers are very conscious of, not enough has been done at the government level, both state and Union, to address this concern and find adequate solutions.

In a 30-minute interview to The Wire, Behar, who is also CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation, illustrated the problem with an example. He said children who were in Class 4 when schools closed are now likely to return after a gap of 16-17 months to Class 6. This means they will never have been through Class 5. Worse, many will have forgotten a lot of what they learnt in Class 4.

Behar spoke about two possible ways of responding to this crisis. First, schools could require every child re-joining after a gap of over a year to go back and repeat the class they were in before schools closed. This would, however, mean a loss of one full academic year or more for a whole generation of students. He indicated that some state governments and schools were aware this was one way of handling the problem but they are very worried about the “lost year”.

A second way of responding to the problem is for schools or, rather, the country’s education system, to create and implement the concept of “a learning recovery term”. This could last up to six months and the period would be used primarily, if not entirely, to recover the learning students have lost.

The immediate consequence of this is that the course work and syllabus for the year would have to be completed in the remaining six months. Behar said this would require “lightening the load”, which is possible. It also would require introducing the syllabus changes that are outlined in the National Education Policy. Behar added that this would also mean that summer and winter vacations will have to be done away with for this year.

Another issue, Behar pointed out,  is that whilst teachers are accustomed to handling students of different talent and calibre within the same class, those differences could become far greater when schools are reopened. This will be another challenge for them.