Only 8 per cent children in rural households attended regular online classes following school shutdowns in the wake of the pandemic, a survey has found.
The School Children’s Online and Offline Learning (SCHOOL) survey was conducted in August and coordinated by economists Jean Drèze, Reetika Khera, Nirali Bakhla and Vipul Paikra with the help of a team of volunteers.
They surveyed 1,400 children in underprivileged households across 15 states and UTs and the findings show that “in rural areas, only 8 per cent of sample children are studying online regularly, 37 per cent are not studying at all, and about half are unable to read more than a few words”.
“The survey focused on relatively deprived hamlets and bastis, where children generally attend government schools. In each of the 1,362 sample household, we interviewed one child enrolled at the primary or upper-primary level,” the report said.
It found that nearly 42 per cent of children in Classes 3-5 were unable to read a single word. Children in Grade 2 — 65 per cent in urban areas and 77 per cent in rural areas – could not read more than a few letters
“Remember, most of these children have never been to school (they were enrolled in Grade 1 last year, during the lockout). Soon they will be in Grade 3.”
“Even at the upper-primary level (Grades 6-8), the proportion of children who are able to read fluently is just over half, in both rural and urban areas,” the report said.
The report also compared literacy rates of children with average literacy rate of the same age group from the 2011 population census. “At that time, according to the census, average literacy rates in the age group of 10-14 years ranged from 88 per cent to 98 per cent in all the school states except Bihar (83 per cent); the all-India average was 91 per cent,” the report said.
“Among school children, however, literacy rates in the 10-14 age group are as low as 75 per cent in urban areas, 67 per cent in rural areas, and 61 per cent for rural Dalits and Adivasis.”
The survey also said that most parents support school reopening. “In urban areas, about 10 per cent had some hesitation about this or even opposed the reopening of schools. In rural areas, however, 97 per cent of parents supported reopening of schools.
“The SCHOOL survey gives an inkling of the colossal damage created by this extended lockout – one of the longest in the world. As we saw, the damage is not lost on parents themselves,” the report said.
“It will take years of patient work to repair this damage. Reopening schools is just the first step, still being debated. In fact, even preparations for that first step (such as repairing school buildings, issuing safety guidelines, training teachers, enrolment drives) are virtually invisible in many states. After that, the schooling system needs to go through an extended transition period not only to enable children to catch up with a reasonable curriculum but also to restore their psychological, social and nutritional wellbeing,” it added.