By the time the latest extension of closure of educational institutions in the country till January 16 takes effect, the duration of closure will complete as long as 10 months. In effect this is as long a period as an academic year if the holidays ---summer and other long holidays ---are counted in a normal time. To put it in another way, a full academic year has been lost from the student life of an entire generation.
Another generation in this country suffered a similar disruption to their academic life 49 years ago in 1971. The context and the background are different but the anxiety and uncertainty are to a large extent similar. Students today have the advantage of staying with their parents at home while people in 1971 were mostly displaced and those who were not, lived an oppressive life in fear. In both cases, though, there is a looming threat of death in the air. In 1971, the enemy was known and today's one is also known but invisible to the naked eye.
Today the threat to young life may be less than the more elderly but that is hardly reassuring. If the bread earners or family heads fall victim to the marauding coronavirus, a family run the risk of getting completely shattered. The death threat apart, young learners' long dissociation from the learning process will have its adverse impact on them in more ways than can be imagined.
School students from primary to class XII may have welcomed their long layoff because they do not have the obligation of completing their routine tasks. But even idling away time has a limit and they surely have long started itching for coming out of their home confinement. They miss their classmates and the academic atmosphere they became so habituated to.
Young minds spread-eagle their dreams, ambition at its best when confronted with challenges. If, however, left to do nothing, the likelihood of wrapping them in a cocoon is high, particularly when parents cannot or are unable to spend quality time with them. After all, not everyone is a Rabindranath Thakur so that each young mind will create a most enchanting world of its own.
There is no guarantee that the closure of educational institutions will not extend further. How do the learners then come to terms with the unusual but certainly unlearning process? True, a rare few with extraordinary initiatives may even learn more than they would have done at school. But the majority of students have not such enabling family environment. In a situation like this, the more important thing is to involve them with a learning process.
Unfortunately, the present system of education here --- dependent as it is on a technique of repeated practice of some problems and a set of questions instead of bringing creativity or originality out of them ---cannot keep students engaged in the process. The online or distance learning also suffers on account of weak digital facilities or affordability of the poorer class. Yet the flawed system of curricula, low quality of text books, substandard class teaching and the evaluation system of students' merit are more responsible than the weak facilities.
True, not all students are equally meritorious but each has his or her areas where an individual can excel. Teachers at the early stage ought to spot the especial talent with which a child is born. Sadly, students are wrongly encouraged to take up what is called groups or branches as early as in class IX. This is faulty. Better it would be to determine if they are capable of pursuing higher studies with distinction or will end up graduating or completing technical courses.
So the primary need is to train teachers who with help from counsellors (preferably psychologists) can spot talents and guide them to make their option for branches and subjects clear. The entire system of education has to be redesigned where school teachers can evaluate students up to class XII.
If teachers cannot be trusted with the task of such an evaluation, education cannot reach the desired level. In that case, let the teachers be teachers in the true sense of the term. If they have to depend on tuition and coaching under a system, this is impossible. Their pay packages have to be double or treble and their dignity has also to be acknowledged in a changed context.