Prajodh Rajan is an education entrepreneur, responsible for guiding the strategic direction and growth of Lighthouse Learning. Under his leadership, the company grew from 2 Pre-Schools in 2001 to 1000+ Pre-Schools network in over 400 cities and added over 30 K-12 schools across multiple brands. Leading a workforce of over 1500+ employees, Prajodh’s vision of creating a world-class environment for his team has led Lighthouse Learning to be amongst ’50 great place to work’ in India.
The Covid-19 pandemic brought along with it the need for widespread digital transformation, and the education sector is no exception. While for most sectors this ushered in a positive change, it seems like education and learning have suffered a major setback.
Online/remote learning and schooling has led to a massive “learning gap” which is cutting across countries. Due to reasons ranging from unstable internet connections to simply the inability to grasp what’s being taught due to the lack of physical classes, students are lagging behind in most subjects and have a lot of catching up to do before they can resume physical school.
Who is the worst hit by the learning gap and why?
At the beginning of the 2021-22 academic session, students were found to be lagging behind in reading by approximately three months and around four months in mathematics. Further, school closures have also led to an increase in absenteeism rates among students, with 2.7 times as many students being chronically absent from school as compared to before the pandemic. While absenteeism and dropout rates are levelling off for students from high-income backgrounds, for those from low-income backgrounds it continues to worsen. Even in the face of adversity, one can see there’s barely any equity in how the learning gap affects students from different backgrounds.
Despite the usage of digital aids, remote learning does not seem to have been as effective as physical classes. The digital divide has made it difficult to provide an equitable learning atmosphere for all students. The lack of proper physical infrastructure, such as electricity and a proper learning environment at home, combined with the dearth of access to electronic devices, smartphones, and the Internet, are among the major factors responsible for the ever-growing learning gap.
Gender inequity and unavailability of learning material in a language that students are familiar with, have only added to the trouble. Even when an Internet connection or stable electricity is available, research shows that girls and boys do not have equal access to it. Among children aged 5-14 years, the ability to use the internet stands at 9.8% for the boys and goes down to 7.6% for the girls. The same survey also highlights the fact that when a family is short on resources, the male child’s education is often prioritized while the girls bear the unfair burden of household chores, further impending their education.
The digital divide often builds on existing inequalities and it is evident that this is exactly why certain groups have been worse off when it comes to the learning gap.
What can schools do to reduce the learning loss?
The pandemic has thrown the education system off-balance and it might be a while before students come up to speed. However, since schools are beginning to open up and everyone within the education system is aware that this is going to be a difficult school year, there are some things that governments and schools can do to help students catch up.
Start remedial classes and bridge courses: Even though this would call for some extra effort at the teachers’ and parents’ end, bridge courses and remedial classes can really go a long way in helping students catch up. Through a combination of videos, activities, and interactive games, these classes will help students brush up their academics as well as other skills such as critical and logical thinking to help them get through the ensuing school year that awaits them. Assessments during and at the end of these courses will also help teachers remain aware of where the students stand and help them build a teaching strategy accordingly.
Make mental and emotional health a priority: Research finds that 56% of educators think social-emotional learning (SEL) issues will have to be a top priority if the intent is to bring students back on track. The pandemic has left nobody unscathed and it’s widely accepted that people’s mental health has gone for a toss. Students are no exception. Allowing students an extra dose of empathy and relaxing the achievement timelines that one has fixed for their students or kids might go a long way in helping students close the learning gap. It is essential for educators and parents to understand that the playing field isn’t level at the moment and standard grade-level benchmarks will need to be done away with. Also, striking a balance between academics and students’ social and co-curricular needs can help ensure students don’t feel overburdened and break under pressure.
Recognize the need for highly personalized learning: The fact that every student learns at a different pace is something that educators and parents have always known. With the learning gap staring everyone in the face, it might be time to put this knowledge to use. Courses and learning programs that are tailored to play to the strengths and interests areas of each student aren’t difficult to create especially in a virtual learning environment. Digital tools can help educators divide students into smaller groups – basis their strengths, weaknesses, and overall learning pace – in turn leading to a learning experience that can help educators focus on subjects students are lagging behind while also appreciating students for what they’re good at.
While it is evident remote learning has led to learning loss, there’s no denying that it has also led to an increase in digital literacy and digital inclusion. On the plus side, this can be a good starting point to normalize blended learning and make it a norm over time. However, the learning gap has reiterated what education research has always known: education can only serve a purpose when societal inequities are worked on and removed. And that’s something everyone needs to be mindful of if we’re looking to prevent such gaps from widening in the future.