September 21, 2022

We let our children down

The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the changing face of education and brought to light an unparalleled learning crisis, with reports of more than 1.6 billion children affected by school closures in the world. While the specific impacts of school closures on learning outcomes are yet to be uncovered, there is evidence that in many contexts the Covid-19 pandemic has further widened learning disparities between those who have access to technology and educational resources and those who do not.

This is particularly evident among the most marginalized and vulnerable communities, especially children with disabilities and special learning needs. A global study by Save the Children said that “the progress that has been made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for children is at risk of being disrupted or even lost. For many children, the impacts of the pandemic will be catastrophic.

Home environment

School closures and the rise of distance learning have increased the burden of care for already overstretched caregivers who have faced increased stress due to the other impacts of the pandemic, namely the potential precariousness of employment, personal and family health issues, etc.

As parents in the middle and upper income groups struggled to balance work and home and children learning and adjusting to the new normal, those most affected were the most marginalized communities, which were in dire straits. These carers and parents, in many cases, also faced challenges around the capacity, time or skills needed to support home-based learning, which further impacted children to ensure a supportive environment. to home learning.

With a lack of access to income and basic necessities and having to stay in confined spaces due to restrictions, there has been a marked impact on the home environment.

A number of global studies have highlighted the devastating effects on children’s lives, including clear indicators suggesting an increase in violence and abuse against children. With minimal access to psychosocial and mental health support, many adults and children have struggled, and continue to struggle, in the wake of Covid.

teachers and educators

Overnight, teachers and educators have had to use a new set of technologies and skills, often without access to technological infrastructure and resources, or adequate training.

In a number of low-income countries, technology is not part of school infrastructure or teacher training priorities. Consequently, the sudden need to shift to online and hybrid teaching modalities has forced teachers and school leaders to scramble to access students, prepare online lessons and deliver them effectively while managing the many challenges they faced at home.

The heterogeneity of lack of technology access and use globally has been further highlighted due to the pronounced impact on low-income countries.

No one was prepared for the duration of the pandemic and while in many low-income countries there were adaptations such as distance learning packs and television and radio programs developed for continued access to learning, several questions remain:

● How effective have these interventions been?

● How accessible were they to the most marginalized children?

● Was anything done to reach and access children with disabilities to ensure they had access to learning?

children and learning

Children around the world have been affected, but the most marginalized and deprived children have been the most affected, bringing to the fore existing inequalities and lack of equity in access to quality education. Without access to home-based learning and support and with limited internet connectivity and devices to access online portals, a number of children have lost any kind of access to learning.

When schools reopened, children returned to an environment where they had to catch up on lost materials and move on to new classes, facing a huge learning gap with no time to catch up. Children have also had a marked impact on their mental health, with studies showing the need to focus on social-emotional support for children, both inside and outside the classroom.

And now?

Covid has exacerbated a number of issues, particularly in terms of education and access for marginalized or vulnerable children. It is absolutely essential that educators, school leaders, teachers and national and local authorities first stop and accept that children have been faced with a situation that will have a long-term impact on their learning to unless it is resolved. Being out of school for months and in some cases even a year or more cannot be treated as a little hiccup; the extent and loss of learning must be understood, assessed and addressed.

The pandemic has amplified the changing face of education and the need for multidimensional approaches. Children need support both for their psychosocial well-being and for access to an education centered on the paramount importance of the learner and their needs.

Teachers need to be supported on strategies that support struggling learners to help them work on key skills and also encourage their learning journey. Teaching pedagogy needs to be more inclusive to provide equitable opportunities for learners at different levels so that in our time with so much knowledge at our fingertips, children do not continue to be excluded from the learning system. Although adaptations have been made, there have been no clear measures of the outcomes of using distance learning, television/radio and its impact on children’s learning outcomes.

Learning and teaching should be adapted and modified to reflect current student needs by assessing student learning needs and targeting teaching, focusing on foundational skills and competencies, and also examining remedial programs to help close the learning gap.

Curricula need to be reviewed and adapted to support learning with a curriculum assessment approach across and within subjects to prioritize the most important skills and knowledge required for a student in each grade, giving emphasis on fundamental learning skills such as literacy, numeracy, and basic social-emotional skills.

As parents, community members and professionals, we need to focus on the needs of our children and understand that we are in a situation like no other. We need to come together and work with policy makers and educators to recover from catastrophic Covid learning loss and help our children recover and rebuild so they can move forward.

Arathi Vinodh is Director of Education at Save the Children in Bangladesh and has worked in education and development and humanitarian work for over 12 years.