India/ 02 July, 2021/ Source/ https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/
By Shilpa Aggarwal and Deepa Mani
Many are critical of Telangana’s decision to reopen educational institutions from this month. Their concerns are indeed legitimate.
- All teachers are not yet fully vaccinated, many not at all
- School-going children cannot be vaccinated
- Most schools do not have well-ventilated classrooms
- It is difficult to follow and monitor social-distancing norms in schools
- Children, even if they do not get sick with the virus themselves, may prove potent carriers who bring the virus back home to their families.
Yet, we believe there is much to laud about this decision. Here’s why.
Economic consequences are significant: Unforeseen extended school closures lead to lower educational attainment with far reaching consequences for earnings and other economic benefits. For instance, individuals in Austria and Germany who experienced educational losses because of World War II experienced sizeable earnings loss 40 years after the war, estimated at around 0.8% of GDP. Remote learning has done little to stymie these losses. A study from the Netherlands shows that remote learning during a mere 8-week long lockdown led to learning losses that were equivalent to 8-10.5 weeks of classroom learning. Our schools have been shut for 15 months now. A conservative extrapolation of these findings suggests we will perhaps have to contend with learning losses worth at least one full school year. Aggregated at a macro level, these losses are monumental and will keep compounding the longer our schools stay shut.
Children and parents are paying a high price: When children go to school, they don’t just learn from the teacher – interacting with peers helps with emotional enrichment and the development of social skills. Studies are beginning to document effects of social isolation on students, including anxiety and depression. Plus, there is parental exhaustion in supporting remote learning, especially significant stresses caused to working mothers and parents who face an uncertain job market.
Poorer families are harder-hit: Costs are unarguably higher for children from low-income families. According to the Unicef’s Remote Learning Reachability Report, only 24% of Indian households have access to the internet at home, with a sharp rural-urban divide. Children from homes without internet access, therefore, are at increased risk for exacerbated educational disparities. According to a field study conducted in January 2021 by the Azim Premji University, covering 16,000 children (grades 2-6) from more than a thousand government-run schools in 5 states, 92% of the kids have lost at least 1 linguistic ability and 82% at least 1 mathematical ability they had acquired prior to the pandemic.
For poor children, health is another casualty: School-based meal distribution plans such as the Midday Meal Scheme have been struck a heavy blow by the pandemic with state-wise analyses of offtake of foodgrains showing a significant decline in the months of April and May 2020 compared to the equivalent time period in 2019 in several states. Food insecurity and loss of school-based healthcare services potentially create widening healthcare disparities.
Children are less at risk from Covid: The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in its recent guidelines for opening K-12 schools in the US, noted that in-person school attendance is not a primary driver of community transmission. Studies offered in support show that children are significantly less likely than adults to contract the virus, and even when they get it, have lower viral loads and are less likely to become ill with it. Severe illness that requires hospitalisation is exceedingly rare among children. The belief that children are more likely to pass it on to adults is a holdover from the early days of the pandemic, when we knew little about the virus, and has now been shown to not be a major concern.
If not now, then when: What would need to happen for schools to open? By all accounts, Covid is not going away. A realistic timeline for universal, full vaccination occurs in mid to late 2022. Do our children deserve another year of being shortchanged on their education? Much learning will be lost, and these losses will likely be skewed in the direction of the poorest and most vulnerable populations.
Shilpa Aggarwal is Assistant Professor of Economics, and Deepa Mani, Professor of Information Systems, at the Indian School of Business. Views are personal