Experts Recommend Effective Strategies to Bridge Learning Gap after Covid-19

Academicians, educationists and experts in a meeting organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) Education Board, have recommended to the Government several effective strategies to bridge the learning gap that has widened due to Covid-19.

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Anwarulhaq Baig

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Academicians, educationists and experts in a meeting organised by the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) Education Board, have recommended to the Government several effective strategies to bridge the learning gap that has widened due to Covid-19.

The JIH Markazi Taleemi Board (Education Board) has organised an important meeting of experts, academicians and educationists to discuss solutions to the problem of learning loss after the closure of schools and other learning institutions during the pandemic period.

Delivering the opening remarks, Director of the Education Board, Mr. Syed Tanveer Ahmed noted the huge learning gaps among students in the wake of the Coronavirus induced lockdown. Mentioning various surveys, assessments and teachers’ observations across the world, including the National Achievement Survey (NAS) 2021, Mr. Ahmed said all indicated the grim situation of the learning loss and deprivation after Covid-19.

Explaining the issue, Mr. Ahmed pointed out, “Students, teachers and parents are facing several problems due to it. For example, a student is attending 7th class, but actually he/she is fit of 5th class, according to his/her academic age. This raises a big question: how can this biological age and mental or academic gap be fixed?”

During his visit to several states, Mr. Ahmed said, teachers shared with him the problem of learning gap, admitting that they have no clear or concrete solution to the issue. He cautioned that if the issue could not be immediately resolved, numerous dire problems, including sharp increase in dropout rates, would emerge within one year.

Presiding over the discussion, Mr. Mujtaba Farooq appealed for educational awareness, especially among the minority community. Elaborating the suggestions of the speakers, the Chairman of the JIH Education Board laid emphasis on creating a sense of responsibility on individual and collective levels to improve the education system as a whole.  Opposing the PPP (public-private partnership) model, he said, “It is not good for the country as it will hit the children of economically weaker sections hard besides pushing us into privatisation of education, which will lead the country to a worse condition.”

Briefing the participants about the National Achievement Survey 2021 report, Mr. Sadat Hussain Khalifa, a Research Scholar JNU, noted that the Union Ministry of Education conducted the survey in November, 2021 to assess the learning loss due to Covid. Asserting that it is better to call it the ‘learning deprivation’ as earlier mentioned by Mr. Ahmed, he said that because, unlike loss, deprivation involves an operational failure to provide education as many agents and actors failed to chalk out any plan to teach students.

The last NAS was conducted on 13 November, 2017 to assess the learning outcomes of class 3, 5 and 8 students. It collected data of one lakh ten thousand schools, two lakh seventy thousand teachers and 2.2 million students through tests and questionnaires from 701 districts of 36 States and Union Territories of India.

Calling it the most important survey for the Ministry of Education, educationists, NGOs, schools, teachers, parents and students, Mr. Sadat said it was the largest sample survey, during pandemic covering about 3.4 million students of 1.18 lakh schools in 733 districts of the country from both rural and urban areas.

Saying that the NAS report shows a sharp dip in the performance of students in almost all subjects, Mr. Sadat pointed out that all the students of the country across social groups and categories notably suffered in maths and sciences during the pandemic years.

Citing some highlights of the NAS report, Mr. Sadat held that over 60% of the schools surveyed were either run by the Centre or States or were government aided institutions and, among them, West Bengal was one of the high-performing states in all parameters. He maintained that during lockdown, when students were at home, mothers could have played good role but unfortunately the literacy levels of the mothers of surveyed students were not up to the mark, even about 78% of mothers were below 12th standard qualified, according to the NAS report.

Speaking on the issue, Prof. Ilyas Husain, former Pro Vice-Chancellor Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), and former Dean, Faculty of Education JMI, suggested to adopt the government-run schemes like ‘Nai Manzil’ launched by the Union Ministry of Minority Affairs with an aim to provide the minority youth who do not have formal school leaving certificate, or those in the category of school- dropouts or educated in community education institutions like Madrasas, formal education and skills, and which enable them to seek better employment and livelihood in the organised sector.

Pointing out that the problem of learning deficiency is not a new thing as it has already existed before the pandemic, Prof. Ilyas stressed on identifying different causes and factors behind the learning deficiency, before finding out their solutions. He said, “No doubt, the pandemic has caused great damages in all spheres of life, be it health, education or economic. However, it switched the education environment in favour of online learning, which we couldn’t even imagine, earlier.”

Emphasising to utilise this favourable environment for virtual learning to bridge the learning deficiency of students, Prof. Ilyas asked the audience to initiate an online learning system along with offline classes, collaborating with different NGOs, for resolving the issue.

Suggesting some practical steps to resolve the problem, Mr. Mozaffar Ali from Delhi based NGO-All India Education Movement suggested to hold parents and teachers meetings and students counselling over the issue along with improving the infrastructure of institutions.

Similarly, Mr. Abdur Rashid of All India Education Movement underscored improvement of infrastructure and holding of bridge classes for students. He asked the audience to imitate Karnataka-based NGO Shaheen Group of Institutions’ Academic Intensive Care Unit (AICU) model for bridging the learning gap among students. AICU is actually a unique approach of imparting high quality education to madrasa dropouts and dropout students of School Grades 1st to 12th with an aim to bring them into mainstream education system. Mr. Abdur Rashid also suggested adopting programmes like Delhi government’s ‘Mission Buniyaad’ which aims to reduce learning gap due to Covid which hit the school-going students.

The mission, originally launched in 2018, after the NAS 2017 found that a majority of Classes 3 to 5 students in government and aided schools performed abysmally in science, mathematics and languages. Originally, it was a three-month programme to improve the learning levels of Class 3 to Class 8 students of all government and municipal schools. However, after a gap of two years due to the Covid-19, the mission has now restarted as a ‘summer camp’ with an aim of bridging the learning gap and help students improve their reading, writing and basic mathematical ability. (to be concluded)