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India’s Pandemic School Closes Implications for ‘Demographic Dividends’

NEW DELHI – Some kids have forgotten what their alphabet or class looks like. Others have dropped out entirely, looking for Work and were never able to continue their education.

For many years, India has relied on its large pool of young people as a source of good future growth, a “demographic dividend”, as many people say. Now, after two years pandemic caused by corona virusit looks more like a lost generation, secret love middle-class dreams about families looking for better opportunities for their children.

Hundreds of millions of students across India have received little or no face-to-face instruction with schools continuously closed since the start of the pandemic. When pandemic restrictions are lifted and then reintroduced, schools are often the first to close and the last to reopen.

Mahesh Davar, a farmer in central India, is in pain when he sees his young sons working beside him. He and his wife work hard in the fields to send their 12-year-old and 14-year-old boys to school, hoping that will ensure better jobs and easier lives for them.

Their education effectively ended nearly two years ago, when schools moved online; The family lacks money to access the internet. Globally, more than 120 million children have faced a similar situation, according to the United Nations.

“Poor people like us have to fight every day to keep the furnace burning,” Mr. Davar said. “Tell me how and where we will buy cell phones?”

Until the pandemic hit, India pulled millions of people out poor, placing hopes for greater economic growth on education. The foundation on which that future was built is now eroding, threatening to jeopardize India’s difficult progress and subject another generation to manual labor, beyond books.

“In India, the numbers are staggering,” said Poonam Mattreja, head of Population Foundation, an advocacy group in New Delhi. “Gender and other inequalities are growing, and we will have many more development deficits in the years to come.”

Many countries are weighing the trade-offs between children’s education and public health. As Omicron has spread across the United States and Europe, officials have struggled to figure out how and when to keep schools open.

In South Asia, Sri Lanka has decided to oppose the closure of schools, while in Nepal they will remain closed until at least the end of January, despite the near-impossibility of remote teaching. out in the Himalayan countryside. Inundated with new infections, Bangladesh has reversed an earlier decision to allow vaccinated students to attend classes, closing schools to all students.

The consequences could be particularly dire in South Asia. The girls are coming in child marriagesand his son left school to go to work.

Bishop Nicholas Barla, a Catholic priest with decades of working with schools in rural communities, said that on recent trips to remote parts of India, he has witnessed ​children reel from boredom and isolation.

“The mental growth that was supposed to take place has stopped,” he said. “It is tragic, because education is the only way out of the darkness and miseries of rural poverty.”

India’s working-age population is forecast to peak at 65% by 2031 before starting to decline. It’s a potential asset that India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has celebrated, most recently this month.

“The power of youth will take India to greater heights,” he declares at a youth festival.

Usually, a large part of the population joining the labor force will be an economic benefit. Now it can be a burden, as the untrained and underemployed in a welfare country like India end up consuming a large portion of resources, from free medicine to health aid. food supply.

The rate of underemployment has increased in India’s capital, New Delhi, which attracts young people from villages around the country looking for economic opportunities. Many of them slept on the sidewalks, warmed up next to large boiling pots, and stood every morning at a designated pick-up point for daily workers.

In a small corner in the old part of the city are dotted with clay tea cups and beedis, Briju Kumar jostled with dozens of other hungry people for a day’s work at a construction site. At the age of 14, he quit his online studies during partial lockdown to contribute financially to his family.

“If schools open, I’m not sure I’ll be back. Only when there is nothing to do,” he said.

His family immigrated from Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, when Briju was in 5th grade so that his father, who had never attended school, could earn extra money driving an auto rickshaw. Repeated lockdowns have forced Mr. Kumar out onto the streets and his son out of school.

Even before the pandemic, India was can’t keep up with millions of new workers entering the job market each year, with growth that does not translate into job creation.

“It is not that we did very well on the road to achieving the demographic dividend before Covid,” Ms. Muttreja said.

It could get a lot worse. The World Bank estimates that India will lose up to $440 billion in future earnings potential as a result of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, young workers are hardest hit by shutdowns and other economic disruptions, facing higher job losses and less financial support. more, according to to a study by the International Labor Organization. In the years to come, even as economic growth rebounds and creates many new jobs, there may not be enough qualified employees to fill them.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, it was digital, digital, digital, which is fine if you are an urban, more middle-class kid,” said Terry Durnnian, UNICEF India director of education. “. “But if you are talking about rural children, children with disabilities, migrant children, tribal children, then they are going to lose out,” he said.

He added: “The loss in learning is huge. “Children don’t get the skills or knowledge to get ahead in life.”

Distance education has been widely offered in India, but four out of 10 students lack the necessary internet connection to attend. And online instruction, especially in public schools, is largely for older students.

Across India, 1.5 million closures affected 247 million children in primary and secondary schools, according to UNICEF research. And as the pandemic drags on, more and more students drop out. A survey of 650 households in the western Indian cities of Mumbai and Pune found that enrollment in virtual preschools fell by 40% last summer compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Rupesh Gaikwad, who works as a grocer in the western state of Maharashtra, said he enrolled his 5-year-old daughter, Nisha, in preschool two years ago.

“Our daughter has never set foot in the classroom. She thinks cell phones are her school, because there is no real interaction with teachers or other students, other than seeing them on the cell phone screen,” he said.

“What we are giving our children today is not education to their full development but trying to keep them busy, knowing very well this is bad for their future.”

Even before the pandemic, India’s education system was horribly inadequate, with many public schools in rural areas lacking teachers and books. Fewer than half of students have the reading and math skills to advance to the next grade.

Now, India’s education spending – already much lower than in richer countries – has been cut even more. According to the World Bank, government spending on education will fall from 4.4% of GDP in 2019 to 3.4% in 2020.

When schools close, more children will also go hungry. Many families rely on free school lunches to help meet their child’s nutritional needs.

During India’s first two waves of pandemic, children largely forgot more than they learned, UNICEF found. With this data, UNICEF lobbied state governments, the education watchdog, not to close schools.

But as the number of Covid-19 infections skyrocketed in India, major cities closed schools again last month. Rural India followed suit.

Anuradha Maindola, a lawyer in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, said her two children, Rudra and Ishita, have only spent about a month in physical education classes since the Indian government’s first lockdown in March 2020.

She decided to let Ishita, 8, who is having difficulty reading and writing, repeat first grade.

“My kids don’t learn anything online,” she said.

Suhasini Raj contributed reporting.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/27/world/asia/india-schools.html India’s Pandemic School Closes Implications for ‘Demographic Dividends’

Fry Electronics Team

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