Over the last few years we have come to expect the prime minister to meet and greet schoolchildren after delivering his Independence Day speech at the Red Fort. But today is different. The guest list is heavily pared. And yet in the very year that the pandemic has rescinded their invitation to the Fort, listening to the voices of children is more urgent than ever before. With their suffering ranging from soaring anxiety levels to major academic setbacks, India like the world is looking at a generational catastrophe. Only smart, proactive and compassionate approaches can avert it.
School and university campuses have been shut since March, and the migration to online, radio and TV platforms for learning has been extremely patchy. Consider that even in India’s financial capital a third of the students in BMC run schools are not attending the online classes. Another survey carried out across 15 states in June suggests that students had discontinued education in as many as 62% households and 40% were not receiving midday meals. Decades of national toil to reduce inequalities in access to education, tied to improving access to nutrition, are at risk here. Preserving these gains as well as accomplishing NEP’s ambitious goals needs unprecedented efforts.
As for university students, with fears of the worst economic contraction since Independence, their job hopes have waned. On top of it they have been tormented by exam wrangling between UGC and the states. Stakeholders should instead find collective ways of assessing learning outcomes, and improving them. The pandemic has underlined that digital access must also be a key part of this progress matrix. The pre-Covid underperformance of the economy was anyway hindering India’s youth from living to potential. For the supply of schools, colleges and jobs to start expanding again, business sentiment will need improving. That needs governments to do better at both Covid and economic management.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.