A mere 8 per cent of students in rural India are regularly attending online classes. About 37 per cent are not studying at all, according to a new study that has recorded the extent of learning losses amongst children with the schools remaining shut for the past one and a half years.
In addition, the financial stress caused by the pandemic has led to the dropping out of many students from private schools. Over a quarter of those enrolled in private schools switched to government schools during the COVID-19 induced lockdown, the reasons being insufficient family income or the online education not going well for their kids, The Indian Express reported.
The 'School Children's Online and Offline Learning', or SCHOOL survey, was conducted last month in 15 states and Union Territories and was supervised by economists Jean Dreze, Reetika Khera, and researcher Vipul Paikra.
It covered 1,400 students studying in Classes 1 to 8 in Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
Delhi, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh account for more than half the sample.
Around 1400 families in both rural and urban areas were interviewed for the survey. The results were based on the responses of such families who send their wards to government institutions.
"Nearly 60 per cent of the sample households live in rural areas while about 60 per cent come from Dalit or Adivasi communities," the report stated.
According to the survey, there is a sharp rural-urban digital divide, with 24 per cent of urban students attending regular online classes while it was just 8 per cent for the rural kids.
Half Of Rural Households Deprived Of Smartphones
One of the main reasons for the limited reach of digital education was that almost half of the rural households do not own a smartphone.
Even if they have one, the proportion of kids accessing online learning resources is a mere 31 per cent in urban areas and 15 per cent in rural areas. This is mainly because 'smartphones are usually used by working adults in the family and are less available to kids. In addition, schools in rural hamlets do not send online study material to students, or in some cases, parents are not aware of it, The Indian Express reported.
In March last year, around one-fifth out of the 1400 surveyed children were enrolled in private schools, among which a quarter migrated to government schools by August 2021.
Moreover, a ground assessment by the surveyors revealed that only 14 per cent of rural students studying in government schools and 20 per cent of urban students have not received their midday meal substitutes in the form of foodgrain and money, despite the Union government's order.
The survey also shows that 50 per cent of the students in the 5th standard are able to read texts meant for Class 2. About 75 per cent of parents feel their child's reading and writing abilities have drastically gone down during the COVID-induced lockdown.
The pre-lockout learning gap, coupled with a decline in reading and writing abilities and mass promotions, is a "recipe for disaster", the report states.