Ranchi: Well-known economist and social activist Jean Dreze writes to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on the closure of primary schools for two years now and its impacts on the education of underprivileged children in the state.
Dreze, who is recovering from Covid-19 writes:
“Much to my disappointment, I will not be able to participate in the pre-Budget consultation today, as I am recovering from Covid. I was keen to attend, particularly to draw your attention to the catastrophic state of elementary education in Jharkhand.”
The activist, in his letter, points out the worst crisis for children “The worst aspect of the crisis we are facing today is not the economic crisis or even the health crisis, it is the schooling crisis. When the pandemic subsides, the economy is likely to pick up and adults will return relatively soon to their normal lives. But children may pay the price for their entire life.”
And mentions, “Jharkhand has the world record of longest continuous closure of primary schools – almost two years. A small minority of privileged children have been able to continue studying online during this period, but online education does not work for poor children. Most of them have been virtually abandoned by the schooling system for two years.”
The visiting professor of Ranchi University cites an example of a survey report for his argument, “This prolonged exclusion from the schooling system has led to a revival of mass illiteracy among children. At the time of the 2011 census, the literacy rate in the age group of 8-12 years was close to 90% in Jharkhand. By 2020, most children in that age group must have been literate. But today, when we survey children of that age among poor Adivasi and Dalit families of rural Jharkhand, we find that a majority of them have lost the ability to read a simple sentence. This was one of the findings of the Emergency Report on School Education, released in September 2021.”
He also says that when schools finally reopen, many of these children will recover their ability to read and write and also enjoy other aspects of learning and school life. But many will not – they will become de facto drop-outs. Remember, children will soon enter classes three grades ahead of the grade they were enrolled in before the crisis. How are they supposed to cope?
And stressed the need for a massive literacy campaign in the state, “With this background, I feel that Jharkhand needs to plan for a massive literacy campaign for primary-school children in the next two years, in addition to other measures that may be required in this situation. The aim of this campaign should be to ensure that no child in Jharkhand is deprived of a chance to learn to read and write.”
The economist gives the idea to Jharkhand CM which state’s scheme can benefit state children, “The details of this campaign need careful thought. Perhaps some inspiration can be taken from Tamil Nadu’s “ITK” scheme. If the campaign is based on mobilising local educated youngsters (especially women, Adivasis and Dalits), it could reach every village at a relatively low cost, and provide some supplementary income to these youngsters. The support of teachers, of course, is also essential.”
And ends with the hope that the schools will reopen soon, “I appeal to you to consider this proposal and to ensure that an adequate provision for it is made in the forthcoming Budget. Needless to say, I am also hoping that schools will reopen very soon.”