High dropout rates, learning gap issues loom as schools reopen in Kerala | Education News


Last year, during the height of the Covid epidemic and the resulting lockdown, an auto rickshaw driver in Malappuram district of Kerala started selling eggs as an alternative means of livelihood.

His son, an eighth grader, used to accompany him to help him.


A few months later, the boy began to sell eggs and vegetables on his own.

In the south in Alappuzha, another boy recently told his teacher, whom he met in the streets by chance, that he was planning to not try his board exams this year because he is busy with his one-on-one jobs, which he did during the lockdown.


It is not certain whether the boys attended their classes when schools reopened in Kerala on Monday, after they had been closed for more than a year and a half.

These potential dropouts provide a peek into the many issues raised by prolonged school closures and the forced alternative to online classes.

This is nothing special in Kerala. Fears of leakage caused by the shutdown are global. However, it is a critical issue that Kerala – which has a very efficient public education system compared to many other states – must address immediately.

Another vital issue is the learning gap caused by the lack of physical school experience for a long time.

Experts in the field of education, despite the differences in their line of thought and approach, share a common view – online classes can never replace physical classes.

They also sought courses to bridge the learning gap as well as deficiencies in students’ emotional and societal skills.

Amruth J Kumar, Professor, Department of Education, Central University of Kerala, who was one of the first experts to identify problems with virtual classrooms, suggested psychologists and teachers sit down together and plan a course of action to address the gaps in students’ social, emotional and educational deficits caused by a lack of school experience.

He sees that students of the lower classes have suffered a lot in terms of intellectual and social skills, while students in the higher classes face a deficit in intellectual and professional skills.

Regarding the learning process, he said that the organic face-to-face interaction between teachers and students is a must for acquiring basic skills such as addition and subtraction.

“If you make two preschoolers sit together, you will notice that they will engage in individual games, often imaginative. Children begin to participate in social/group games as soon as they enter school. This is the beginning of their socialization skills. Children in this category Omariya, who lost a precious year and a half in schools, missed this crucial stage.”

Explaining the lack of social skills, he said that gathering is a must for teenage students as it plays a vital role in their social and psychological development, including sexual awareness.

It also raised concerns about a possible higher dropout rate after the online education period.

On October 19, UNICEF published a report that estimated that “four percent of school children in Asia are at risk of dropping out due to the pandemic – reflecting progress made in school enrollment in recent decades.”

Amruth Kumar said a large number of students are likely to leave school as long as schools remain closed for various reasons.

Teens, especially boys, who stay out of school for an extended period of time are more likely to find themselves in the adult world. Some of them will start working (as we saw in the case of the boys mentioned at the beginning of this story), while some may start with bad habits like smoking and drinking. All of this will motivate them not to go back to school once it reopens.

Ajay Kumar, a Dalit human rights activist who runs RIGHTS, a non-profit organization focused on educating the Dalit and Adivasi communities, also shared similar views.

He said the continuity of learning – what academics call a learning tree – was disrupted during school closures. He also called for bridge courses – lessons to fill in the gaps in a student’s knowledge that were to be gained during regular classes – a must now.

“Some students will be able to deal with the new systems and make up for the losses themselves. Some parents may be able to afford private lessons for their children in the subjects in which they need special attention. But not everyone can do that.

He fears high seepage rates in the Adivasi belts and coastal areas.

“The classes were done online, but the learning didn’t happen. The government first has to do an assessment of the online learning. But I don’t think any government will do that because they know the results will be disastrous.

Kerala Sasthrasahithya Parishad, a left-leaning association, conducted an assessment of online classes in August 2020.

The main finding of the study, which involved 3,000 students, was that students showed a sharp decline in their interest in studies through online methods.

Vinod, who chairs Parishad’s Education Subcommittee, said online classes will never be equivalent to classroom learning in the current circumstances.

He said that assessments during the online classes proved that a large portion of the students were not familiar with their textbooks.

“So-called smart or high-achieving students may not have had many academic losses during online classes. However, a large section of students drop exams just because they attended classes. Many in this department have been neglected with the school closed.” During the exams, we noticed that many students were not able to answer the questions for the text books, which means they were not familiar with the books,” said Vinod, who teaches Malayalam at Government Senior High School, Mankada, Malapuram.

The good news amid all these concerns is that the Kerala government has mentioned the need to address the learning gap problem in its published academic guidelines before school reopens.

“Our new approach to learning should be to help students progress using the new methods as well even as we bring them back to school and close their learning gap,” the document says.

It also advises teachers to identify and address the learning gap through continuous assessment.

“We have made teachers in each school qualified to assess the learning gap of their students. Now, a centralized approach would not be possible because the learning gap is a very subjective issue. It can only be addressed at the local and decentralized level. This is why we directed the schools to do a coping exercise for students in the first 15 days before starting lessons. It will also be a natural integration with the school system and identification of the learning gap during this period,” Muhammed Hanish, Principal Secretary, said the chief bureaucrat of Kerala Public Education Department Unmanorama.

No matter how prepared the system is, the seriousness of the learning gap issues and the looming threat of a high dropout rate will only be revealed in the coming days, when classes are in full swing.



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