When the Union health ministry recently advised people to learn to live with the coronavirus, it was seen as a clear statement of acceptance of the new normal going forward. The virus is expected to linger around for a long time, unspooling in bursts in some areas while remaining fairly subdued elsewhere. Locking the country down for long cannot be the answer, though taking protective measures like observing physical distancing are reasonable and must be strictly followed.
Learning to live with it is what the education department is already attempting to do, as it has outlined the schedule for the leftover CBSE board exams for Classes X and XII, spelt out the process of valuation of answer sheets, fixed competitive exam dates and announced the college admission calendar in August. Among the interesting out-of-the-box ideas is an odd-even scheme for schools when they reopen for the new academic year. It envisages students coming to school on alternate days so that the classroom is only 50% full—in line with the need for physical distancing.
The National Council of Educational Research and Training is expected to pitch the scheme before the human resource development ministry for it to take the call. Another idea to stagger the population of students in school is to let 50% of them come on alternate weeks. The scheme factors in the challenge of keeping children gainfully occupied on days when they cannot go to school by offering digital tools and live interactive classes through 12 TV channels, one channel for each class.
Since every aspect of life will be impacted in some way by the time the virus is contained, it’s good the mandarins are looking at new ways of engaging students. India has a high young population but their quality of education is poor. For instance, an ASER study in 2018 found that a little over half of all children in Class V alone had the ability to read a Class II level text. With the pandemic dislocating families, the challenge is to use innovation to keep the children interested in learning and help them achieve their dreams. If successful, it would usher in the Naya Bharat politicians often pay lip service to.