CBSE Called Lockdown ‘a Golden Opportunity For Education’: But For Whom?

In light of the COVID-19 lockdown, when the country came to standstill, CBSE released a notification titled ‘Lockdown – A Golden opportunity for Education‘ on March 26, 2020.

The document talks about what should be done by children, teachers and parents during the lockdown to be ‘productive’.

It should be noted that in India, there are 22,778 schools are affiliated to CBSE, creating a wide network in function, which directly relates to its impact. The document starts with pointing out the loopholes in the education system and connects it with ‘Teacher and Pedagogy’ as a matter of concern, more likely to call it the ‘only’ problem in the whole education system which needs to be worked upon.

The lockdown phase is then glorified as an exceptional opportunity to initiate change and to resolve such matters in education. It explicitly says that children have unlimited time and resources which can be used for real-learning by involving e-classes, games, video shoots, and a lot of other activities in their daily routine.

Clearly, the document is based on assumptions that are beyond the realities of the Indian context. This article is an attempt to unpack the assumptions.

The document is premised on an image of an ideal childhood, a very particular type of ‘children and childhood’ which originates from the Global Northern construction. The document has its middle-class bias and this connects us to the question of: Is the Indian middle class also following a model of childhood derived from Northern constructions?

Do we all have the same kind of childhood? Are our childhood experiences same? The answer is ‘no’; childhood is a physiological, cultural, and societal construct, it can never be fixed or same for all. The assumption of a single kind of childhood narrows the vision and de-magnifies varied concerns and problems, it takes ‘one’ as all and follows the principle of ‘one-size-fits-all’ – which can only work on paper but not in practice, especially in the Indian context.

The kind of suggestions and alternatives given in the document deal with the concerns of people fitting in the ideal image of childhood set by the actors at power positions and neglects the struggles and needs of diverse childhoods existing. What will a child belonging to a marginalised section of society do with these suggestions? A child for whom the physical building of a school is the only token to education and food, how can she see lockdown as an opportunity and not a crisis?

Their struggles are not even getting attention, nobody is asking or thinking about their needs. Then how can these alternatives like e-learning benefit all (including the disadvantaged)? Are government officials also assuming that all children have resources like mobile phones, internet connectivity and a safe space to learn? The answer to this comes out clearly when the document mentions turning every house into a learning and skill centre, making this the second assumption i.e. all children have resources, a healthy environment, and also unlimited time for learning.

As we already know, access and affordability of smartphones, broadband, and wireless internet connections in the country is an existing issue. A basic prerequisite for e-learning is a smartphone with internet connectivity. According to data generated by Statista (2018), only 27% of the Indian population have smartphones and according to the NSSO 75th round Key Indicators of Household Social digital Consumption on Education in India (2018), only 23.8% of the household have internet facility.

Also read: Delhi University: Online Lectures and Accessibility

This marks a digital exclusion. This is the quantitative data, which is always taken into consideration while formulating any policy or reform process. The shocking part is the neglect of such important quantitative data during the document formulation. Why did they tend to overlook the heterogeneous landscape of the Indian population? What agenda lies behind such a skewed and exclusive vision? Whose vision is this and for whom? What will this lead to?

As stated in the document, this time of “lockdown” can be best utilised by using digital means.

The question is for whom is there easy access to digital means? Is it someone in a privileged position? Who could be benefited with online learning initiatives?

It then encourages children to go for online platforms like Khan Academy and Byju’s learning app, aiming at promoting market-based solutions to social and educational problems. Now the problems of educational quality and access are being addressed by the involvement of edu-businesses in the delivery of educational services, both privately and on the behalf of the state. Such mentioning in a govt. document implicitly gives space to the private intervention, providing edupreneurial solutions by brands (children as clients and generating brand reliability).

In the Eleventh five-year plan (2007-12) document, the corporate sector was also explicitly mentioned among the group of private entities that the Indian state could engage with for the delivery of social services. Also, the Notification of section 135 and Schedule VII of the companies Act, 2013 called for greater involvement of companies in corporate social responsibility measures in the social sector. These new modalities of govt. increasingly advocate PPPs and the blooming of edu-business as a panacea for social sector reform, allowing for privatisation and in turn compromising on the state investment in education.

The World Bank Education Strategy 2020 argues that the non-state sector is an integral part of offering ‘education services’ serving ‘even the poorest communities’ often subsidised or contracted by the govt, thereby encouraging PPPs and Privatisation. This picture of failing state and celebration of market-based solutions can be seen at work at several levels.

Again, who can access, afford and sustain these market-based solutions? The capitalist state believes in subordinating the welfare and needs of its citizens in favour of the profitability of the corporate sector and political elites, an essence of which can be marked in this document as well.

Also read: Amidst Lockdown, Kashmir’s Online Classes Are a Disaster Waiting to Unfold

The document ends with seeing this lockdown again as an opportunity to indulge children (psychologically) in the process of e-learning and take advantage of it. It focuses on generating an e-learning model promoting digital classrooms for today and near-future where one teaches thousands, to overcome the problems like shortage of books, schools, good teachers. It says everyone must “rise from the physical classroom and promote digital classrooms”.

I wonder what that would be like and would that even resolve any of our existing issues, because I strongly feel that it would create more issues at varied levels for several actors linked to it. This idea also contradicts the National Curriculum Framework-2005, which has its base on a child-centred approach.

The question is: Are the physical spaces replaceable? Too little have been thought of physical educational spaces, everyday happenings, interactions, learnings from the experiences, etc. Can education be only seen as an exchange between individuals through screens and not the organic relationship between teacher and student (the core of learning), or the hands-on activities in collaboration with others? Would digital classrooms be more meaningful, innovative and effective?

Can education be left as a black-box, which serves one kind and rejects the others?

How are we looking at education? How do we relate state and education? The recent document by CBSE is not an answer nor the solution to the existing crisis, but it definitely tells us a lot about the hidden agendas and thought-processes of the people formulating policies.

Aishwarya Sharma is pursuing an MA in Education at Ambedkar University, Delhi.

Featured image credit: Mwesigwa Joel/Unsplash