Covid-19 second wave further cripples education system

Schools remain closed for over a year. Future uncertain.
By Aaron Dmello

28-06-2021

The 21st century has left the world standing still in the grips of the Covid-19 pandemic. With lives and livelihoods decimated by the coronavirus, students from school children to higher educations have all felt its adverse effect and the virus still persists.

Just as the Covid second wave is reaching its trough, there is no relief in sight even for a moment. People are now worried about the inevitable third wave and its desolation. Meanwhile, the virus is mutating into new forms quicker than the variety of dresses changed by actors in a Bollywood number. Amidst all this catastrophe no sector of any industry or common life has passed unscathed and the education industry has suffered and is still suffering quite a blow from Covid-19.

One year schools closed

It’s been a year since schools and all educational institutions were asked to shut down by the government due to the influx and tremendous surge in the Covid-19 cases in India. The prolonged break from day-to-day school life has not only shattered the dreams of school children but also has increased school dropout rates drastically. Besides, the latter has also given a boost to child labour too.

Although many educational institutions migrated to the online mode of education quickly and optimized efficiency gradually, their staffs nor the students were trained for the change. Besides the fact that a major chunk of the Indian population finds it hard to afford meals regularly, possession of a smartphone, or a laptop or a decent internet connection only add up to their woe.

During the formative years of student, the personal face-to-face interaction between the students and the teacher is vital but the buffering status on the online mode of communication isn’t exactly very social.

Psychological and physical effect on school children

We have seen school children attending classes in a school, playing and enjoying in movies as well as in reality. But in the present pandemic ridden world, these feelings, memories and interactions have been relegated to videos.

It can be observed that young children take some time to get adjusted to going to school and making new friends but once they get the hang of it they look forward to it daily. However, the drastic change in their happy routine due to the pandemic and the cessation of all physical contact between friends can create a feeling of isolation within them. This issue may be resolved through video calls but a virtual world is in the end, a virtual world.

Meanwhile, students will find it hard to concentrate on studies and also feel lazy to try due to the wide variety of distractions and lenience available within one’s own house. Besides, the online mode of education will also create a sedentary life for the child who otherwise actually requires quite a lot of running, jumping, skipping and a little bit falling around. Hence, if parents fail to give attention to the importance of the physical activity of their children, it can have a bad effect on their physical as well as their mental growth.

Exams postponed/Results issue

The Covid-19 pandemic not only shut down schools and other educational institutions but also got all exams deferred or cancelled. The examinations postponed or cancelled include that of IITs, AIIMS, JEE, CET, CBSE, CISCE among others. The delay and the uncertainty have only increased students’ anxiety and beached their future.

Meanwhile, due to the impossibility of conducting exams as per schedule or multiple re-schedules, several state government decided to promote students to the next level. In cases where this was not possible, marks were allotted to the students based on a newly created criteria of adding marks from previous years exams along with the midterm or internals. Although this new method might save some time, it isn’t an accurate representation of what the students have learnt.

Admissions postponed

With the postponement of exams including entrance exams, and the shutting down of educational institutions, admissions have fallen on the backburner. The pandemic has severely affected the higher education system in the country, especially the public universities. The lockdown in effect has put many universities in a quagmire since they do not have the capacity to conduct exams either online or in-person under current conditions.

The pandemic has also affected MBA admissions in B-schools/IIMs since they have been delayed with the lockdown in place. Although some have started admissions through online mode to shortlist students and begin classes in the month of July, it remains to be seen if the classes will become a reality. They have started online classes so as not to compromise the duration of the academic session, but the delay in the commencement of the programme will eat into the duration of the summer internship.

It may be observed that last year, classes were cancelled due to the pandemic, which left MBA students unsure on when or how they will complete their programme. But this year, the classes have gone online and the semester exams have been conducted in remotely proctored mode.

Meanwhile, small educational institutions like coaching centres and vocational training centres have their own crosses to bear. Despite having the infrastructure, the lockdown has killed employment and in turn has also affected admissions, if any for Job oriented Courses.

Fees collection issue

With education going online, the cost has come down but the pandemic has affected everyone’s purse alike. Educational institutions need to collect their fees to break even with their investment in the institution`s infrastructure and maintenance. However, given the rising unemployment and salary cut-downs, the fees seem exorbitant to the parents. It may also be argued that online education is more likely to be cost-effective and budget-friendly. So the demand for fees in the earlier classroom scenario seems unreasonable to many, especially during the hard pandemic period.

This conflict of interests ended up in the court and eventually, the court ascertained that the private institutions had their right and freedom to charge what they charged for their services and the state governments could not interfere in the process.

Meanwhile, several parents are struggling to pay the 100% fees demanded by the private institutions despite the severe pandemic torturing the masses.

Study abroad dreams sink with no vaccination

Before the pandemic, scores of students were getting prepared and ready to pursue their higher education abroad in countries like Australia, UK, the USA, Germany, Canada, France and others. But the double whammy of the Covid-19 second wave has all but weighed down these dreams and their future.

The ill-conceived vaccination policy of the Indian government has jeopardized the future of thousands of students planning to study abroad. Although many Indian students are all set to attend universities abroad they cannot do so without getting vaccinated. Several countries have made vaccination a pre-requisite for entering their countries but in India, vaccines are nowhere in sight.

Although some states have agreed to prioritize giving vaccines to NRIs and students planning to study abroad, they themselves are struggling to procure or provide the vaccine at the required rate.

Presently in India, the vaccine programme is made of two vaccines, covaxin (indigenous) and Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca). However, of the two vaccines, Covaxin is not recognized by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and hence, most international universities will also not accept the vaccine and thus the whole vaccination programme in fact balances on one vaccine whose availability is in the form of a shortage.

Meanwhile, the two doses of Covishield vaccine have a 12-16 week gap which is counterproductive for students planning to study abroad as their semesters are bound to begin around August and hence, they cannot attend the classes if they haven’t taken the second dose and if they wait to take the second dose they still will miss the classes.

Meanwhile, several countries are trying to find a way to verify the vaccine status of foreigners entering their country. The most plausible solution to this is a Health Passport which will provide certification that the individual has been vaccinated. Implementation of a rule to provide a health passport will prove to be a boon to students who have got themselves inoculated.

In conclusion, the second wave of Covid-19 is almost an unmitigated disaster. Lives and livelihoods have been lost and the future looks bleak as the virus seems to be the only one prepared to surf on its third wave of decimation. All a common man can do is wash his hands, wear a mask and hope the storm kills itself.