Millions of Indian Children at risk of not reaching their developmental potential

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COVID 19 prompted a historic shutdown of all Indian schools last year in March which setback learning for all students, especially young children. 

School shutdowns have only increased disparities in learning and achievement among India’s children. According to data provided by Square Panda India, out of the 240 million children in India aged between 0-8 years, 74%, i.e; 178 million live in rural areas. Millions of the children are at risk of not reaching their full potential because of inadequate nutrition, a lack of early stimulation, learning, and nurturing care, and exposure to stress.

The missing classroom experience 

In India, the ECCE system is built around an in-class experience and provides a level playing field for all. Private preschools train their teachers extensively, invest in broadband internet and devices and focus on curriculum design-  they also lay a lot of emphasis on gasification among students.  However, when it comes to public education, many communities are also the hub for support systems such as school meals, mental health counseling, and childcare. 

With preschools shut, in many homes, especially for low-income families, students lack access to the internet, devices, and a dedicated, quiet place to study. This has deepened the learning losses. 

The numbers speak 

The Azim Premji Foundation’s ‘Loss of learning during the pandemic’ study by Feb 2021- which covered 16067 children in 1137 public schools in 44 districts across 5 states from grades 2-6 has revealed some startling findings. It says that 92 % of children on average have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across classes. 82 % of children on average have lost at least one specific mathematical ability from the previous year across all classes. 

Cognitive psychology suggests that without practice, children are most susceptible to forgetting facts and procedural skills.  And they have very little learning practice at the moment as they have lost one whole academic year and could probably lose another year too. 

Tracy Cardoz, educationist at SquarePanda India says, “it is important to note that these studies only assess the short-term impact of the lockdown; and at this point, we cannot fully understand the long-term, detrimental consequences of the lockdown on children’s wellbeing.”

It has become extremely imperative to develop prevention programmes to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, on children’s psychological wellbeing. 

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