With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing shutdowns and wreaking havoc on lives, livelihoods and economies, an “unprecedented education emergency” looms over the world, according to Save the Children’s recent report. Drawing on UNICEF data for April, which said that 1.6 billion children worldwide were out of school due to Covid-related school closures, the global child rights NGO warns that 9.6 million children are at risk of never returning to school. This is alarming as it means that Covid19 is reversing all the gains that the international community has made over the decades with regard to fighting illiteracy and bringing children to schools. Schools in many countries have shut down and while older children in some countries are still able to go to school, younger ones have to study online. For many, poverty and lack of internet connectivity stand in the way of accessing online education. Covid-19 has also forced children into employment. Since parents have lost their jobs or are earning little, children have to work. With the economic outlook bleak for the coming years, it does seem that many children will remain out of school. The battle to get children to come to school, not drop out, and to complete their education has been a tough one. However, the effort was worth it as the number of children receiving some form of education was growing. That is in danger of being reversed. Going to school is valuable not only to provide children with skills to read write and count and to access knowledge but it provided children with opportunity to meet and play with other children? They learnt social and other life skills in the process. Schools provided children with a space to be just children, have fun but also learn. With Covid-19 forcing children out of school, millions will be denied of this experience. The other requirement for distance learning – the internet – is still out of bounds.
According to the National Sample Survey education report, just 20 percent Indians above the age of 5 could use the internet, and only 24 percent families had the facility. The trends vary across states, and are even worse for rural areas. The coming months and years will witness governments cutting back in budget allocations for education. Schools in remote areas could be shut and hiring of teachers reduced. Such education-unfriendly decisions will worsen children’s access to schools. Governments at the Centre and in the states must bear in mind that children are the future of the country. To not invest enough in their health and education will undermine their well-being and that of the country. Understandably, the government is preoccupied now with fighting the pandemic. Civil society needs to rise to the occasion. Experts in the fields of education and child development need to begin planning to prevent the looming “unprecedented education emergency.” Private colleges in India which were already offering online education for last two decades now have a massive surge in e-Learning demand to meet.