The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, which have brought physical classroom learning to a halt, has widened the learning gap among school students in West Bengal, a recent survey has found.
The survey, conducted by the Pratham Education Foundation and the West Bengal-based Liver Foundation in December 2021, was carried out among 11,189 students in 17 districts of the state.
The survey found that 27.7 percent of respondents studying in Class 3 could only read Class 2 level text, down from 36.6 percent in 2018 and 32.9 percent in 2014. More worryingly, the report added that as many as 48 percent of students belonging to Class 5 could read Class 2 level text, down from 50.5 percent in 2018, 50.2 percent in 2016 and 51.8 percent in 2014.
Commenting on the survey results, Pratham Education Foundation CEO Rukmini Banerji told The Indian Express, “Before moving into teaching-learning activities at grade level, it is essential that children are given the time and opportunity to develop appropriate physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, pre-math and language skills.”
The survey found that the percentage of Class 2 students who can at least read complete words has dropped from 66.2 percent in 2018 to 53 percent in 2021. That means the current percentage is even lower than the 54.8 percent in 2014. Also, as little as 68.5 percent of Class 1 students can recognise single-digit numbers, down from 77.8 percent in 2018.
Dr Abhijit Chowdhury of the Liver Foundation, who works with the West Bengal government in several areas, was quoted by The Indian Express as saying that the figures suggest that digital education cannot provide holistic development of children.
Following the closure of all educational institutions owing to the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in January, the West Bengal government reopened colleges, universities, and schools for classes 8-12 last week.