When children return to school, they will need time and patience


While the pandemic and the ensuing school closures have affected us in many ways, the loss of learning among children emerges among the most explicit and worrying aspects. This loss of learning has two dimensions – one is the learning that has not happened due to school closures. In addition to this loss of curricular learning, there is “forgetting” what they already knew. This forgetfulness is not uncommon, it shows itself well after a long vacation, and is usually made up for during the first weeks of schooling. However, when this loss affects fundamental skills like reading, writing and basic arithmetic, it deeply hinders further learning.

The loss of learning due to the closure of schools during the pandemic has been observed around the world. Quantified in terms of the months that children are “behind” with their class, it ranges from less than a month after 11 weeks of school closure to four years after 57 weeks of school closure. According to the report, “What’s next? Lessons on Education Recovery ”by UNICEF, UNESCO, the World Bank and the OECD, among measures taken to mitigate this loss, 41 percent of countries reported extending the school year while 42 percent reported prioritize certain areas or skills of the program. More than two-thirds of countries said they had implemented corrective measures to address learning gaps for primary and secondary students when schools reopened.

Our primary schools have been closed for about 500 days, which corresponds to more than 70 weeks of schooling. Given how long the schools have been closed, as we reopen now, we cannot start with the regular program as if it were the start of a regular school year. We need to think deeply about what needs to be done. This question is particularly debatable for primary schools, where the foundations for further learning are established. To answer this question, it is necessary to examine how children learn in primary school. Children learn not only through classroom interaction, but also through observation, dialogue and exploration through unstructured experiences. So, since we have to make up for over 70 weeks of school closures, we should not rush the children into the learning process. Not only the learning associated with the current class, but relearning from previous classes should be the center of attention.

The next question is: what is important to learn? The learning outcomes for each class have been clearly stated by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which is the nodal academic institution for school education at the national level. These learning outcomes focus on the skills that children need to acquire as opposed to the content of textbooks. So, reading a poem is important, memorizing the content of the poem is not important. Being able to add is important, not adding all the issues at the end of the manual chapter. And language and mathematics are the most important, because they allow the learning of other subjects. Thus, the learning outcomes of specific subjects should be prioritized and the curriculum reset for at least a few years.

When schools reopen, the differences in children’s learning levels will be more marked than before. One deceptively simple solution is to place children in groups based on their current level of learning. Called skill bundling, this seems like the perfect solution, with kids starting with similar skill sets and continuing that way. However, the approach of grouping students according to their abilities often results in ‘labeling’, which has a negative impact on their self-esteem and worth; Research studies have shown that students in “low” ability groups have significantly lower self-esteem than poorly performing students in mixed ability classes, and are also likely to have behavioral problems. This approach also neglects to take into account the fact that children learn from each other. It is not uncommon to have children of different levels in the same class. Some schools use this difference as a resource, using sets of teaching-learning materials that children use in groups under the guidance of teachers. As children reach predefined learning milestones, they advance to the next level. This approach using peer learning benefits everyone.

When we look at the available data from various studies on our children’s learning levels, it is clear that at the primary level the focus should be on foundational skills. For example, the Azim Premji Foundation field study in January 2021 in 44 districts covering five states indicated that nearly three-quarters of children in class II lost the ability to identify a printed word; in class IV, for example, a majority of them lost the ability to express the essentials of a poem while in class VI more than half of the children lost the ability to write their opinions on various events happening around them. The recently published SCHOOL survey conducted in 15 states shows that overall, 42% of children in urban areas and 48% in rural areas are unable to read more than a few words. These studies indicate that most children in primary grades have lost the basic skills necessary to continue their learning journey.

Curricular priorities should be set according to the stages of schooling. While the priority at the primary level is on the recovery of fundamental skills in language and mathematics, the emphasis should be in the middle school on an integrated approach to achieve learning outcomes in all subjects, while at the secondary level and upper secondary, core learning outcomes should be identified and mapped to textbooks; and for this level additional material could be developed, as students at this stage are capable of independent study.

As the people closest to the learners, teachers need the autonomy and support to determine what and when children learn, within the overall framework of the curriculum. Changes in the curriculum and approach to teaching and learning would require orientation of teachers and materials to support their work with children. This material should be engaging and meaningful, related to the children’s context, while encouraging them to talk about visuals, read small pieces of text, answer interesting questions, and perform simple exercises. This material should cover a range of abilities so that the teacher can use similar resources for the whole class.

To track recovery from learning loss, periodic assessment would be necessary – this should be done in a non-threatening manner, by the teacher through observation and interaction with their students. The stress of regular testing should not discourage children from learning.

Finally, it is important to recognize that the closure of schools resulted in more than a loss of learning. This has led to a disconnection from the schooling process. The children have suffered losses; some entered the labor market while others were given responsibilities within the household. The most important thing to do when schools reopen is to welcome them back – listen to their stories, give them time to settle back into their routines, involve them in activities that allow them to feel good. Express. Time and patience can help us find ways to not only make up for lost learning, but also to change our schools for the better.

Khandpur and Rishikesh are professors at Azim Premji University


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