The Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Children
Author: Femi Ann Varghese
Despite the existence of technology for almost a decade and its adoption in recent years in other nations or by private entities for enabling digital education, the authorities responsible for formal education in India were embarrassingly unprepared to meet this challenge. The poor expertise of the teachers in the digital tools for education and the additional burden on them in the form of election duties or COVID-19 duties have contributed to the dilution of the quality of educational instruction in the COVID-19 era. This will negatively impact the lifetime educational attainment of the children. There is a fall in the educational output and the country is unable to reap the benefits of the investment in education. The lack of vision of the authorities affected children’s social, psychological, and physical well-being in the short run and all these will hurt the development of the nation in the long run.
Psychologically, there is a high incidence of PTSD, anxiety, frustration, and depression among children. A trauma of uncertainty is caused by delayed or undecided schedules of their final examinations or commencement of the academic year. Children residing in remote areas may not have access to a strong internet connection and those living in cramped houses may find it hard to focus on their studies in a peaceful environment without any interruptions. The lack of access to education and even its poor quality has resulted in a high rate of dropout among children in the previous year. The repercussions of the present digital divide will be felt in the future as the lack of or even the poor quality of education will impede social mobility. This generation of children may find it hard to develop their assets to come out of poverty.
Adding to their woes, COVID-19 has pushed my Indians into abject poverty and consequently, some of these children are made to do child labor. For many children, schools are their second home. It was a haven for those living in abusive households. Now they are prone to domestic violence and child abuse. This will severely hamper their development. One cannot turn a blind eye to the increased risk of exploitation of children.
As the children are required to do their work online, they are deprived of much social interaction with their peers. The negative effects of the absence of social interaction will be manifested in the form of social awkwardness, social phobia, social isolation and not being able to properly develop their linguistic, communication, and interpersonal skills which are some of the most sought-after skills among job seekers by employers. Nor would they develop a competitive or sportsman spirit. They will lose their enthusiasm to compete with others. These children will undeservingly be at a disadvantage in the job market.
The computer and the internet are highly distracting sources of entertainment. Children tend to spend more and more time in front of these gadgets. This may have negative consequences in the form of addiction to the internet, pornography, and becoming victims of cyberbullying. As a result of all these, children could develop aggressive social behavior.
Children with special needs are particularly affected as they are deprived of the individual attention they require to successfully overcome their disabilities. Mention must also be made of the working parents and the illiterate parents. They can only be a worried spectator of the plight of their children.
The change in the status quo has also affected the children physically. Mid-day meals provided at schools were the only source of nutrition per day for many. COVID-19 denied them of that. Globally, there is a 30% reduction in the coverage of nutrition services. On top of that, they cannot engage in outdoor activities and get enough exercise due to the lockdown. These along with the psychological issues leave the children prone to food insecurity, nutrition deficiencies, weakened immune system, health disorders, and vulnerability to infectious diseases.
COVID 19 may disappear in a few years but one must not lose their guard. The acceleration of global warming and the resultant climate change means that humanity must expect more such episodes of pandemics. First and foremost, efforts must be taken to eliminate the digital divide. Digital education should be provided to children, parents, and teachers. It must be made sure that everyone has access to the necessary gadgets. The public authorities must invest more in education, develop digital libraries, and create MOOC courses. Efforts must be made to develop a digital environment parallel to offline activities. Online activities must be designed such that they promote teamwork as well as competition amongst the children. Most importantly, skills training should be given adequate emphasis so that India will benefit from its demographic dividend.
The burden on the teachers must be reduced. Since this is a new venture for many teachers, they should also be trained adequately on the how-to of various digital tools. They require time, resources, and space to plan the particulars and conduct of the academic curricula. A system for effective communication among students, parents, and teachers must be developed. A support system for the teachers should be created.
The local government leaders should join hands with the school authorities to provide essential services like mid-day meals and psychosocial support to the children at the level of the wards. No stone should be left unturned in exploiting various mechanisms to provide individual attention to the child in a holistic manner.
In addition to education-specific measures, one must adopt eco-friendly behavior and take steps to reverse climate change to reduce the chances of another pandemic. The time to correct our mistakes and overcome our shortcomings is today and now. As an emerging and developing country, India requires the proper transformation of its population into the much-needed human capital for the development of our nation. We cannot afford any risks.
Edited by Shuruthi. J, Associate editor, Lawgic Stratum.