School closures have led to alarming disparities in learning opportunities for children in South Asia, despite significant efforts by governments and partners to expand distance learning, according to recent UNICEF research in India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
School closings in South Asia due to the COVID-19 pandemic have stopped 434 million children from learning. According to UNICEF research, a large number of students and their parents report that students have learned significantly less compared to pre-pandemic levels. In India, 80 per cent of children between the ages of 14 and 18 reported lower levels of learning than in school.
Similarly, in Sri Lanka, 69 percent of parents of primary school children reported that their children were learning “less” or “much less”. Girls and boys from the most disadvantaged families and children with disabilities faced the greatest challenges while learning remotely.
“School closings in South Asia have forced hundreds of millions of children and their teachers to move to distance education in an area with little connectivity and affordable equipment,” said George Laryea Adjei, UNICEF regional director for the South of Asia. “Even when a family has access to technology, children do not always have access to it. As a result, children have experienced massive setbacks on their educational path.” Despite the great efforts of governments
declining connectivity and access to digital devices has severely hampered efforts to spread distance learning. In India, 42 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 13 reported that they did not use any form of distance learning while schools were closed. In Pakistan, 23 percent of young children did not have access to any device that could support distance learning. Poor and disadvantaged families have been hit the hardest, with many families struggling to buy even a single device.
Even where devices are available, UNICEF research indicates that they are often underused and children’s access to them is often limited. For example, in Pakistan, among children who have access to devices, only about 24 percent are able to use them whenever they want.
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The research found that student and teacher participation, when regular and reciprocal, is a strong predictor of children’s learning success, especially for younger students. However, surveys found that most students had little or no contact with their teachers after schools closed. In Sri Lanka’s private primary schools, 52 percent of teachers reported calling their students five days a week, but that number dropped to just 8 percent for teachers in public primary schools.
“The safe reopening of schools should be seen as one of the top priorities of all governments. In parallel, investment in teachers will ensure that teachers and schools can adapt to all situations. The more teachers are trained, equipped and supported in distance and blended learning, the more teachers are trained, equipped and supported in blended and distance learning, “added George Laryea Adjei. It’s better for them to reach out to all of their students. ”This is an important investment we must make for children as the district prepares for future waves of COVID-19. We need to build systems that can weather any storm and keep children educated, no matter the circumstances “.
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The closure of schools in South Asia has exacerbated an already precarious situation. Even before the pandemic, nearly 60 percent of children in South Asia were unable to read and understand simple texts when they were 10 years old. In addition, 12.5 million children at the primary level and 16.5 million at the lower secondary level were out of school.
Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India, said: “Going to school is an essential part of children’s lives. The prolonged closure of schools due to COVID-19 has caused many children to miss school. learning, social interaction and play time, which is essential for their development and general well-being. The safe and gradual reopening of schools in the Indian states is a welcome step as children learn better and this will help prevent further learning loss and alleviate some of the psychological stress they face. The component is fundamental.
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