Syllabus– General Studies 1(Society)
Child Rights and Right to Education.
Children have long borne the costs of school closure and evidence-based decisions toward reopening are a necessity
- Most schools in India have been closed since the national lockdown started in March 2020.
- This raises a lot of questions following data and publications on this topic over the last 15 months.
- Interestingly, various regions around the world which have been worse hit by the novel coronavirus pandemic than India, have kept their schools, especially primary schools, mostly open.
- On the other hand in India, schools have mostly been shut even as other businesses have opened.
Impact of school closure
- Already there was a huge attainment gap across students, especially in higher grades. The bottom half of children passing Class 10 are about two years behind in terms of skills.
- Ironically, the poorest families living in dense urban slums, who bore the brunt of the first wave, and are now largely immune from the virus itself (as shown by serosurveys), are the ones suffering the most from school closures.
- A survey across 10 States in India in November 2020 estimated that nearly 2/3rd of children in rural India may drop out of school, a staggering statistic which is likely to have worsened with continuing closure.
- Haryana has reported a 42% drop in student enrolment in private schools. Prolonged school shutdown has severely set back India’s fight against ills such as child labour and child marriage.
- Due to the shutdown of schools, mid-day meal schemes have been disrupted; even as early as June 2020, it was estimated that about 800,000 additional children would face underweight and wasting.
Health and wellbeing concerns
- Even in well-off urban India and in developed nations, extended school closure is having a severe impact on children’s mental health.
- In Las Vegas, U.S. a surge of student suicides forced schools to reopen in January 2021.
- The United Kingdom reported a 40% rise in the number of children taking antidepressants.
Assessing the risk among children
- The risk of COVID-19 for children is much lower than for adults, and is also much lower than other (already small) risks children face in daily life anyway.
- A study among the nearly two million children in Sweden (where schools have been open throughout), found that there was not a single child death due to COVID-19.
- As per Mumbai’s dashboard data, the COVID-19 IFR (Infection Fatality Rate) for under-19 is minuscule: about 0.003% .
- In other words, school-age children are at a negligibly lower risk from COVID-19 when compared to other threats which we consider normal.
- Further, Public Health England’s June 2021 report shows that the newer variant Delta is much less dangerous (case fatality rate 0.1%) than the original (case fatality rate 1.9%), which is the expected evolutionary path of a virus.
- Further the overwhelming conclusion of the various studies for the concern of teacher staff result that the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools is minimal compared to other locations.
Treating teachers as essential staff
- Conclusion from various studies is that the risk of COVID-19 spread in schools is minimal compared to other locations.
- To further reduce the concern among teachers, the Government must treat them on a par with essential workers, and offer them prioritised vaccination.
Differentiated options for different people
- A “one-size-fits-all” approach may not be suitable, as each individual’s risk-benefit analysis could be different.
- For children who lack the resources, whose parents have to go out to work every day, in-person schooling is paramount.
- Parents who can afford to work from home have sufficient resources for their children and may choose to continue with partially or fully online classes for a few more months.
It is high time to implement such differentiated options.
- There has recently been talk about tying school reopening to vaccines for children. Any medical intervention, especially for children, must be based on a careful risk-benefit analysis.
- More than the virus, fear stands between our children and their education and normal life. Policymakers must make evidence-based decisions toward school reopening. This is the least the working class and the children of India deserve.
Question- School education has remained neglected since the beginning of pandemic induced lockdowns. Discuss the impacts of these on children along with measures needed to ensure safe reopening of schools.