COVID-19 crisis has affected as many as 1.6 billion learners across the world. Prosperous economies such as the US and Western Europe have been as badly affected as developing countries like India and Brazil. While a lot is being said about challenges that await the global economy, little attention is being paid to the education system, especially the schools.
This trend of omission ignores the fact that the education system feeds into the economy through several fundamental channels and any unpleasant shock will create economic reverberations across geographies over several years. The issue becomes even more relevant in a country like India, where the abundance of labor implies that human capital formation is critical to one’s access to economic opportunities.
The Quantity Effect
Scenes of internal migration from major Indian cities to villages became symbolic of the crisis. Those scenes also implied that hundreds of thousands of students headed to their villages without any certainty about the next academic year. A large section of students from amongst the urban poor who might have stayed put for now is also facing stiff challenges. For instance, the daily wage earners, and even those who draw salaries from establishments are finding going hard even as the crisis ebbs. With depleted savings and lowered income prospects, it is uncertain if such families will want to spend the same amount on education as earlier. In addition, they might be tempted to divert their children into the labor market. This might come with a significant social cost with female students being the first in line to face the consequences.
And if the demand-side dynamics weren’t enough, there might be unpleasant implications even on the supply side. Low-cost private schools, which cater to the educational needs of the poorer sections, might face an uncertain future with a smaller number of students. Basic economics suggests that this might lead to retrenchment of staff and reduction in overheads, if not complete shutdowns. It is plausible then that teachers may also be assigned additional administrative responsibilities, thereby hurting the quality of teaching.
The Quality Effect
Apart from the quality of teaching, the post-Corona education system might also suffer from other qualitative deficiencies. With schools shut, e-learning has emerged as a panacea. Yet, some argue that it cannot replicate the role of the leveler that in-person education does. Due to its nature and logistical requirements, this model also creates a divide between those who can afford high-quality internet and e-learning devices and those who cannot. In addition, as their relevance rises, these services may become costlier, thereby creating even deeper wedges among different sections of students. It is also important to acknowledge that e-learning, in its current form, is not the perfect alternative to in-person learning. However, with increased competition in the market, one is bound to see the rise of novel models, which will aim to bring together teachers and students on platforms, which promote facilitation and self-learning and reduce instructive authority and over-dependence on teachers. In fact, Brainwiz is working on one such solution that aims to prepare India’s human capital for the work-life challenges of the 21st century.
With distancing having become a new normal, it is possible that even after the crisis blows over, there might be some persistence of such practices. As an example, even if classes resume with distancing norms being followed in schools, cautious school managements and parents may agree on reducing avenues for extra-curricular activities, which are integral to the overall personality development of a student. Finally, one has to feel for those who will be writing their class 12th exams in 2021. With their academic year already disrupted, these students might have to face a lot of uncertainty. For instance, due to the nature of the academic year, the authorities might err in favor of setting easier exams. However, as an unintended consequence, this might lead to higher cut-offs at prestigious institutions.
There is no doubt that we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Health infrastructure and economic security remain the current priorities of governments across the world, and the Indian government is no exception. However, once we emerge out of the crisis, a number of after-effects will be felt. India’s education system, owing to our unique context, may get deeply impacted on a lot of fronts. It is high time that the authorities, in conjunction with academic institutions, start planning for an exit plan out of the crisis, such that all possible scenarios are accounted for, and relevant actionable steps are put in place.
Failure to prepare equals preparation for failure!
Author: Tarush Jain (Founder, Brainwiz)