Hopes have brightened for the reopening of the educational institutions in Jammu and Kashmir. With COVID cases dropping and serosurvey showing encouraging results, Jammu and Kashmir government has ordered the reopening of 10th and 12th classes for vaccinated students with 50% capacity on a given day.
Children in Kashmir have been hit harder as they have mostly remained confined to homes since August 5, 2019. For three years now, the students have mostly not attended school. The negative effects on children are unimaginable. The generation that had to start schooling in 2019 and 2020 is yet to understand what a real school means.
The government had ordered the reopening of schools in March, but they were closed again after the second wave engulfed Kashmir. Panic had gripped the parents after dozens of students tested positive.
Six months on, the government has finally bitten the bullet and decided to reopen schools in phases. To start with, the government has ordered to reopen schools for classes 10 and 12. Coaching Centers for Civil Services/Engineering/NEET, however, have alsO been permitted with limited in-person teaching for fully vaccinated staff and students. All other Coaching Centers shall continue to remain closed for onsite/in-person teaching.
Higher educational institutions have been asked to commence limited in-person teaching subject to 100% vaccination of staff and students and specific permission of concerned Deputy Commissioners.
The government has asked institutions to organize special vaccination camps in consultation with the district administration. Heads of these institutions have been asked to ensure that the guidelines related to social distancing and Covid protocols are adhered to.
Despite attending online classes for two years, they have not yet been accustomed to waking up early, getting ready for school, or being dropped and picked up at the bus stop. And online classes can never create an atmosphere of regular schooling where kids have lunch breaks, play with fellow students and study by themselves without the help of their parents as is seen during online classes.
In fact, parents have been found complaining that they do a lot of homework during online classes that are meant to be done by their wards. Besides depression and other mental health issues, doctors have also noticed increasing obesity among children. Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre, CGWC, IMHANS in collaboration with the Directorate of School Education DESK, Kashmir had initiated community outreach programmes in the various government schools of the valley. But it was not enough.
In a recent study, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has revealed that 59.2 percent of children use smartphones for instant messaging applications and only 10.1 percent use them for online learning and education.
Titled, ‘Effects (Physical, Behavioral, and Psycho-social) of using Mobile Phones and other devices with Internet Accessibility by Children’, the study said that 30.2 percent of children of all age groups have their own smartphones.
Surprisingly, 37.8 percent of 10-year-olds have a Facebook account and 24.3 percent of the same age group have an Instagram account. Earlier a survey, conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) revealed about 80-90 percent of older students in Central government schools use mobiles rather than laptops to access digital schooling.
Another study conducted by Azim Premji University maintained that school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a complete disconnect from education for the vast majority of children or inadequate alternatives like community-based classes or poor alternatives in the form of “online education, including mobile phone-based learning.”
Titled `Loss of Learning during the Pandemic’, the study covered 16067 children in 1137 public schools in 44 districts across five states. It focused on the assessment of four specific abilities each in language and mathematics, across classes 2-6. These four specific abilities for each grade were chosen because these are among the abilities for all subsequent learning – across subjects – and so the loss of any one of these would have very serious consequences on all further learning.
“One complete academic year has elapsed in this manner, with almost no or little curricular learning in the current class. But this is only one kind of loss of learning. Equally alarming is the widespread phenomenon of ‘forgetting’ by students of learning from the previous class – this is a regression in their curricular learning,” the study said.
The key findings of the study showed 92% of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes and 82% of children on average have lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year across all classes.
Children are facing numerous psychological issues due to increased screen time. However, the challenge is even greater for those children who lack access to smartphones.
To address the mental health needs of those children, Child Guidance and Wellbeing Centre, CGWC, IMHANS in collaboration with Directorate of School Education DESK, Kashmir initiated community outreach programmes in the various government schools of the valley. Sensing trouble, parents have been demanding the reopening of schools and higher educational institutions for some time.
(Author is senior editor at The Kashmir Monitor. Email: [email protected])