Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, schools in New Delhi remained shut from March 16, 2020 until this year when Class 9 and above were invited to attend classes. This was followed by sudden notices regarding the reopening of schools for all classes in the capital on October 29 this year.
After a staggered opening with classes being held in batches, schools have been closed twice again until further notice due to the poor and unhealthy levels of AQI in the city.
What does this mean? Until March 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, an average elementary school student spent around 700 hours in school, whereas an average secondary school student spent 1,000 hours. The post-Covid reality hit the school instructional hours differently, by cutting short one-tenth of schooling altogether. Consequently, the decline in instructional hours is proportionate to the fall in the number of students achieving successful academic learning. Even after schools were reopened, the instructional hours were down by half owing to Covid-appropriate measures and behaviours, which meant calling the students in only twice or thrice a week.
The opening, closing and reopening of schools has created havoc amongst parents and families. It also highlights the poor and weak communication channels between the school and the parents. As for the students are concerned, they are found in a continuous state of oblivion owing to a lack of loud and clear communication. Most students do not have access to smartphones where they can receive messages from the school authorities.
Additionally, Delhi has the highest share of interstate migration in the country. The majority of the government schools in Delhi accommodate the migrant student population. Ever since the pandemic started, families have seen the devastating realities of COVID-19 and were forced to move back to their native places. With schools reopening and shutting again, along with a lack of access to timely and correct information, families find themselves in a huge dilemma of whether to stay in their villages or come back to the capital. This further adds to the education crisis by lowering the school instructional hours received by this set of students, who are now already two years behind their grade level.
The recent closing of schools due to the extreme levels of pollution in the city puts forward a series of questions. Is the move serving the purpose at hand? What about students who are already battling educational crises and already facing learning losses? How can students living in poor infrastructure with access to only one room for five family members ensure safe breathable air by not going to school? This largely questions the importance being given to the education system where schools become the first place to close due to pollution but the last place to open in the post-Covid era after cinema halls, gyms and bars.
Shaista Naaz is a Teach for India Fellow placed in New Delhi. She is a Fellow educator at a North Delhi Municipal Corporation school (NDMC) school, Munirka NPV, where she teaches Class 1 and 2 students.
Featured image: An MCD truck sprinkles water on a street to reduce smog impact, in New Delhi, Monday, Nov 29, 2021. Photo: PTI/Kamal Kishore