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Pandemic blow: School dropouts double putting children at risk

India is a developing nation vying to become a superpower but it is still far from achieving 100% literacy. 
 
According to available data, India’s literacy rate hovers around 75% which leaves a quarter of the citizens contributing very little to the economy hindering the country’s progress. There are several contributors to the status quo, one of the most significant contributors is the dropout of school students.
 
The primary momentum which pushes young ones towards education is a passion for learning and a curiosity towards the world. While in developed countries, the majority of the dropouts occur due to a lack of interest, in India, students primarily drop out due to their financial conditions. Most of the students dropping out come from economically weaker strata of the society.
 
Schools also contribute towards the drop out of students. The government-run public schools lack adequate infrastructure, causing a significant portion of the population to turn towards private schools. The education quality available to a child gets decided by the family’s ability to spend, creating a vast difference between the education received by the rich and poor. 
 
Most of the economically weaker children have to use the poor government provided facilities. Education in government schools is significantly worse than an average private school. The situation gets exacerbated by the lack of checks on the education quality, aided by the automatic promotion of all students in the early classes. 
 
Testing by organisations like Education Initiatives have highlighted the abysmal condition of the government schools, with most of the students far below their actual grade levels in core subjects. Due to the poor education of government schools many students drop out as they don’t find them as valuable.
 
Schools should ideally prepare students for their future lives. The basic need for a human being is livelihood, for which a human being needs money for their survival. In reality, school education gives more stress on grades instead of what a child assimilates in the process of being educated. The letters A, B, C, which a child learns in kindergarten sticks with them throughout the journey and creates an illusion that these grades are necessary for good jobs. Students with faltering grades feel that they are unsuitable for further studies and drop out.
 
Dropout rate doubles
 
On the other hand, UNESCO has predicted that nearly 24 million children across 180 countries may not return to education in 2020-2021 due to the pandemic. The largest share of learners at risk of not returning to school are in south and west Asia. The 24 million children like Pranitha who may never return to education are in addition to the 258 million who were already out of school prior to the crisis in the pre-primary to university level. 
 
The National Sample Survey Organisation’s 2017-18 household survey put the number of out-of-school children in India (6-17 years) at 3.22 crore. This has doubled. With schools shut for over a year now, we are already seeing children especially in rural areas helping their parents in MGNREGA schemes. The longer the gap in learning, the more disinterested they get and eventually exit the education system.
 
In India, the closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns in 2020 has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. In addition, there are over six million girls and boys who were already out of school even before the COVID-19 crisis began,” as stated by UN. But post-unlock phases, children from higher primary and high schools, and from families working in informal sectors are chipping in to help their parents earn some extra income.
 
Undoing all past efforts
 
In January 2020, for the first time, the school dropout rate in India was less than 3%, but COVID-19 will undo that, say experts. Apart from parents losing jobs, another common reason for children in India to drop out of education is poor digital infrastructure. Many regions face 14 to 16-hour power shutdowns, especially during monsoon. 
 
The Unesco assessment estimated the decrease in enrolment at the primary and secondary levels at 11 million. Globally, more girls are likely to be affected at pre-primary and upper secondary levels, while both boys and girls are at a greater risk of not returning to universities.
 
Govt needs to step up & bring kids back to schools
 
Now, it’s time for the government to step up, make a strategy and frame out immediate as well as a long-term plan so that children can be brought into the mainstream. Instead of focussing on the implementation of NEP in pandemic time, the Government should create an environment to check dropouts and allow the children to join the learning process back again! 
 
The government must create community teaching centres or small teaching huts to keep the flame of literacy lit up. It’s time to fill the dropout trench in order to avoid the illiteracy wave otherwise COVID-19 along with the number of record deaths will also create a  record number of illiterates too. 
 

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