Totally approachable and down to earth, with forever a cheerful smile; that is Niru Agarwal, Trustee, Greenwood High School. Quite early in life, her leadership qualities were there for all to see, which found their true manifestation in her emergence as an entrepreneur par excellence, with a vision for the betterment of the society. Under her stewardship & unique approach to education, Greenwood High School has reached newer heights of excellence in moulding the young minds of tomorrow. Niru Agarwal is also the interface for the Group’s social commitments and welfare schemes and has been a prominent fixture in various charitable organisations.
As schools begin to have students back on campuses, anxiety is high among stakeholders whether the learning process would be smooth, whether students can grasp subjects like they did during pre-pandemic times and how they would cope with going back to classroom. Students may experience lack of attention span and be unable to concentrate for long periods. Given the prolonged period of remote learning, students need to be re-introduced to classroom pedagogy. The problem is more intense for children without access to technology and online learning that would have impacted their academic skills and knowledge as their exposure to teaching has been weak during the pandemic. So it is important to understand the learning abilities for students on an individual basis and one-size-fits -all solution may not work. While the teaching community did their best, the learning loss due to COVID-19 is indisputable.
A recent report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education, Women, Children, Youth and Sports has pointed out that prolonged school closure has had a debilitating effect on the cognitive abilities of the students, weakening their foundational knowledge in key subjects such as Mathematics, sciences and languages at the school level.
Addressing Dip in Cognitive Abilities
Now that students are back to classrooms, teachers are witnessing gaps in learning. The online climate of learning has led to change in habit and lack of discipline needed to learn concepts. With children living in isolation for long, they had no access to teachers to track their progress nor did they have friends around them to clear doubts. Owing to the lack of classroom learning, students would be hesitant to ask questions and voice their doubts and there could be discomfort in following instructions from teachers. They are easily distracted and teachers have to invest greater amount of time on individual students to understand their issues and help them return to classroom mode. Hence, it is now necessary to have intensive bridge courses and accelerated learning programmes to make up for students’ learning loss. Conducting assessments through regular tests with multiple-choice questions or quizzes and measures taken through intense customised personal remedial classes to address the problem areas of each student are also necessary.
Helping to Cope with Social and Emotional Consequences
The pandemic has also impacted the holistic development and capacity of learning in children by leading to social and emotional consequences on them. Studies indicate that stress levels have increased, and children and their families have been finding it hard to cope with the current situations. Preliminary findings from a recent study by Child Fund India, covering approximately 2,000 children from marginalised communities upto 14years from 10 States suggest that around 73 per cent of the children were feeling anxious because they were unable to meet friends and teachers, access or/and understand online learning sessions. Hence, it is necessary to address this problem. Special focus is needed on interventions that support the social and emotional learning (SEL) aspect in children along with the critical interventions to help children cope with their learning loss as well as the stress and anxiety that they have been experiencing.
Handling Regression in Learning and Reimagining Education
The last 18 months has elapsed with very little curricular learning. But this is only one kind of loss of learning. Equally alarming is the widespread phenomenon of ‘forgetting’ by students of learning from the previous class – this is regression in their curricular learning. This overall loss of learning – loss (regression or forgetting) of what children had learnt in the previous class is going to lead to a cumulative loss over the years, impacting not only the academic performance of children in their school years but also their future. To ensure that this does not happen, multiple strategies must be adopted with rigorous implementation to compensate for this overall loss of learning. It is also important to ensure that wide gaps in digital access/literacy are also addressed.
In conclusion, there has to be a comprehensive review of all issues including learning gaps and problems faced by students, parents and teachers. Unless this happens, it would be difficult to see where exactly the loss exists and how deep the learning gap is. Learning is not just about reading books, in which case, libraries could do the job. We have to facilitate learning and comprehension of difficult concepts and find out imaginative and creative solutions to deal with the crisis in these extraordinary times. It is important to focus on bridging the gap and ensuring that children are all on the same page in terms of their conceptual understanding. It is now time to reimagine education and address the acute problem of learning losses among students.