COVID-19 devastated the world. We know that almost all the countries ordered school closures affecting more than 168 million school children. Education during pandemic was a huge challenge.
“One in seven children have missed more than a tri-quarter of in-person classes, according to UNICEF.”
According to UNESCO, “One in Five learners cannot attend school, one in four Cannot attend Higher Education classes”.
About Tamil Nadu:
During the pandemic, the state of Tamil Nadu took preventive measures to control the spread of the virus. It was a new normal situation and for the first time, all the students continued their studies from their homes attending online classes, house visits by teachers, cluster level education, etc.
Tamil Nadu’s education system is divided into 5 segments:
pre-primary, primary, upper-primary, secondary, and higher secondary education.
In the academic year 2020-21, there were a total of 58,904 schools in the state. 35,579 were government schools, 8,326 were aided schools, and 12,402 private unaided recognised schools (affiliated to different boards) and 587 schools fell under the category of other schools. The total number of students enrolled in the schools of Tamil Nadu is around 1,29,44,501.
There was a competition between the government schools and private schools for more than 2-3 decades. The government and the matriculation schools took several initiatives to attract children to their institutions. More schools were established every year for the benefit of students. Government schools were built each year more than private schools. However, it is erroneous to conclude that students and parents preferred government schools. The private school students outnumbered government school students by over 10% in the academic year 2019-2020.
Even though the creation of government schools has increased, parents preferred to enrol their children in private schools by believing that private school children become better-versed in English communication skills, discipline, curriculum, and results. Parents believe that English medium schools open lucrative doors for employment opportunities and give them a higher social standing in the society.
In most of the government schools, the medium of instruction is Tamil and they do not have the same degree of appeal as private schools. Nevertheless, the Tamil Nadu government is taking necessary steps to add more English-medium government-run schools every year to close the gap between parents’ perceptions and infrastructural reality of the government schools.
The Technology role during and before Covid-19
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the use of technology in schools was limited. Many schools prohibited students from bringing gadgets and laptops to schools. Instead of digital devices and technology, the schools had a preference for books, guides but rarely digital learning.
But after the pandemic, the entire system was flipped upside down. The absence of classroom lessons created an education loss for the government school children.
Seeing the education loss, the Tamil Nadu School Education Department launched an e-portal to help students learn from the comfort of their homes during the lockdown. The government’s Kalvi TV aired the video lessons. For the benefit of students, the government took steps to upload the lessons prepared by the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) in students’ laptops. Kalvi Tholaikatchi, the government’s YouTube channel, streamed various programmes for the benefit of teachers and students.
The scenario of Private school children was very different. The Private schools took initiatives to resume their classes on Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and many other platforms. WhatsApp groups were used to share education materials and updates from respective schools. Invite links were shared on WhatsApp groups and other platforms ahead of the sessions.
Challenges of Digital Device and Education
While online learning makes learning easier through advanced technology, it is not without its downsides. The lack of social interactions makes it difficult for students to comprehend the lessons. Students who are used to the traditional blackboard method of learning, find it difficult to adapt to new forms of learning. Lack of access to devices and connectivity issues also affects online education.
A study showed that private school students had more access to gadgets and computers than government school students. Government school students, however, were more likely to have access to television where they watch the government-run educational programmes. The gap between private school students and their counterparts grew wider when it comes to smartphones.
Education Loss and Need of Additional staff
Though the state government of Tamil Nadu had initiated to provide education during pandemic through television and Illam Thedi Kavi concept but the gap and the education loss in the government school children was irreplaceable. The need for additional and support staff is increased especially for government school children to bridge the education loss.
Many children have lost interest in education and it led to drop outs. The pandemic has highlighted the need for the major players in the education industry to be flexible and agile. It has reversed trends and has demonstrated how an economic crisis can cause people to rethink their beliefs and preferences. Smile Foundation through its flagship programme, Mission Education (ME) is helping children go back to school and resume their studies with full flair after the end of the long pandemic.