Impact of pandemic-induced school closure on classroom learning and mental well-being of Odisha children

A note on consultation on Reimagining Post-Covid School Education in Odisha, organized by Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) in collaboration with Atmashakti Trust:

The Odisha State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (OSCPCR) in Collaboration with Atmashakti Trust today organized a consultation on Reimagining Post-covid school education in Odisha, herein at Gita Gobinda Sadan, Bhubaneswar.

In this context, a study report on education during the pandemic “Bridging the Gap” was released by the dignitaries and discussions took place on what challenges children faced during the pandemic in terms of their education and what can be an appropriate policy action of the government to cater to the learning and other needs of children in a post-covid scenario.

Chairperson of OSCPCR Ms. Sandhyabati Pradhan presided over the consultation.

Representatives from District and Block education offices, NGOs working on education attended the consultation and discussed vividly the importance of preparing a comprehensive strategy on post-covid school education. Among dignitaries, OSCPCR Ms. Dibya Saswati, Ms Ruchi Kashyap, Executive Trustee, Atmashakti Trust, Senior Journalist Mr. Priya Ranjan Sahu, OSM Convener Anjan Pradhan, and many others joined the consultation.

Why is post-covid education strategy important? What positive impact will it have among children?

It is important to understand the impact of pandemic-induced school closure not only on classroom learning but also on the mental well-being of children. As school reopens, it is necessary to design a school reopening strategy which will incorporate the psycho-social-educational needs of the children and ensure that others involved in the education process are trained and well supported to assist them in a post-COVID classroom.

Keeping this in mind, a series of studies were conducted to understand the mental well-being of the children, parents’ functional literacy, challenges faced by School Management Committees, and challenges faced by Teachers. The study was conducted by Atmashakti Trust with its allies Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha, Odisha in 84 blocks of 17 districts of Odisha which are largely represented by Tribals, Dalits, and other marginalized communities.

Key Findings of the reports are:

Study on understanding the mental wellbeing of school-going children of Class 1 to 8

Sample Size: 10,258 children

  • Lack of access to online education also played a major role in children’s elevated mental stress. 91.09% of the children interviewed did not have access to a smartphone. Online education was attended by merely 11.09% of children. For those that attended, online classes were confusing for 87.7% of children. 12.8% reported that they could not interact or ask questions with/to teachers for fear of being bullied by their teachers. 14.7% felt embarrassed to ask a question as the concept of online classes was something new and unknown.
  • 76.7% of children said there was no connection between them and their teachers during school closure. 61.5% of children reported that they were fearful about their learning loss when they heard about the school closure news.
  • 74.6% of children reported mental and physical abuse during the pandemic. Also, 45.5% of children said that they were engaged in household work to support their families.

Study on level of functional literacy among parents

Sample Size: 4357 parents

  • 27% of the parents have not attended any school
  • 33% of the parents were not able to read Odia alphabets, 30.1% of parents were not able to read Odia words & sentences
  • 42% of parents were not able to write Odia language even though Odia is their mother tongue.
  • 35.4% of the parents could not do small additions and subtractions.
  • The survey showed the plight of the parents, their helplessness, and their inability to provide basic educational support to their children during the school closure due to the pandemic.

Study on awareness of School Management Committee on their roles and responsibility

Sample Size: 1107 SMC members

The School Management Committee (SMC), constituted under the Right to Education Act 2009 plays an important role in ensuring accountability in India’s education system, especially in Government schools.

The study report reveals that

  • Out of 1107 interviewed SMC members, most were from the farmers and daily wage laborers segments. 9.7% of the members did not attend a single meeting, 15.7% of the members did not have any information about the meeting.
  • 34.9% of the members were not aware that monitoring of school development works came under their purview or not, 43.3% of SMC members said that they have never checked the student’s attendance
  • 65.5% of them said that if they will get a remuneration of Rs.210 or @one day wage of MGNREGA (whichever is highest) for each meeting it would make them more accountable to participate in every meeting of SMC without fail.

Study on understanding teachers challenges during the pandemic and in a post-covid classroom

Sample Size: 695 teachers

It was not only children who bore the brunt of the pandemic. Teachers who were surveyed reported numerous challenges and needing support with children’s education when school reopens. The study report found that:

  • 75.01% of teachers are engaged with multifarious assignments, 56% engaged in Census Survey works, 39.6% engaged in COVID response work & 34.7% engaged in other works apart from their scheduled job responsibilities.
  • 31.2% of the teachers did not have internet connectivity, 5.4% did not have smartphones and 26.4% are not even comfortable operating smartphones.
  • 42.7% did not get any training related to conducting online classes for the students. They have lots of apprehensions about the mental health of students after the school reopens.
  • 32.5% reported mental health issues, 47% stated that they seek support from the parents, SMC’s and volunteers to run the school smoothly once it is reopened.

Study on School infrastructure in rural Odisha

Sample Size: 6967 schools

Keeping the RTE Act in mind, a study on school infrastructure was jointly undertaken in July by Atmashakti Trust, with its allies Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha, Odisha. The study was conducted across 17 districts of the state which has a large Tribal and Dalit population. The study found that:

  • 55.1% of schools surveyed did not have a boundary wall.
  • 87.9% of schools in the state did not have a playground.
  • 54.4% of schools did not have an electricity connection.
  • 34.2% of schools in the surveyed districts did not have drinking water facilities and children had to go outside the school premises to drink water.
  • 30.9% of schools in surveyed districts in the state lack a functional toilet facility.
  • 19.2% of schools still do not have a functional kitchen space
  • 78.9% of government school buildings need either minor or major repairs.

The study reveals a trend of children, parents, teachers & SMC members reporting an increased difficulty to address mental wellbeing issues that cropped up because of the lockdown. As schools reopen, there is an emergent need for an action plan to address the mental wellbeing of children, especially those from the marginalized communities who were mostly left out of any support system during the pandemic. Counseling, extra support to children for improving their social behavior, mentoring support to lessen their stress and fear in classrooms as well as in their homes is crucial to help them more effectively.

“We are happy that OSCPCR took up our report and organized a stakeholder engagement consultation with NGOs and education officials of the state government. The next step is to do advocacy with the government to ensure children are provided with a supportive environment to continue learning”, said Ruchi Kashyap, Executive Trustee, Atmashakti Trust.

“The challenge of education for children during covid 19 is not reciprocal. In order to ensure the right to education of children, we need to team up our efforts to realize it.  OSCPCR will consolidate recommendations and recommend the government to take apposite action based on the findings of the report”, said  Sandhyabati Pradhan, Chairperson, OSCPCR.

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