The healthcare sector may have been the worst affected by the pandemic. However, the outbreak and consequent lockdowns have had far-reaching ramifications for education and employment. Nearly 1.5 million schools were shut in India for 315 days, a significant part of 2020 and early 2021, due to the pandemic, impacting about 250 million children. In April 2021, the unemployment rate stood at 8%, with 7.35 million jobs being lost.
While discussing the impact of COVID on morbidity, mortality, hunger and malnutrition, we often miss out on its impact on education. The pandemic did not just destroy the economy and its major sectors like hospitality, tourism, restaurant businesses, consumer goods and the entertainment sector. The hardest hit, by any measure would be the education sector – schools, colleges, training institutes and tuition establishments. Thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of non teaching staff were fired, and those who were not asked to go had significant salary cuts.
The new academic year that will start soon has seen a record drop in registrations and admissions. The future looks bleak as Universities remain closed, schools yet to know when they can reopen and examinations indefinitely postponed, if not out rightly cancelled. Such uncertainly will only cause greater consternation among parents and students. There are no vaccines in India for youth below 18 yet, and there is bound to be some serious concern on getting infected in classrooms, dining halls and the sports fields. One entire year has been virtually lost and looks like the next is not going to be any better. There is also the spectre of a third wave – that will primarily hit our school going children
The Centre for Development Policy and Practice is hosting a seminar on June 1, 2021 (TODAY), addressing education and employment during COVID-19 and beyond. The seminar will have experts address diverse aspects plaguing education and employment. The seminar will discuss access to digital education, mitigation strategies for learning losses and the re-emergence of boarding school as an education system, among other critical questions. The employment concern will focus on changes in the employment scenario post-COVID19 and its impact on vulnerable groups.
While the country’s resources have primarily gone towards saving lives and controlling the pandemic, India is a young country with 27% of people between 0-14 years of age and 67% in the working-age group of 15-64 years. Education and employment cannot be secondary if India is to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend. This large youth population also needs us to give them confidence that post high school of after a college degree there will be employment and entrepreneurial options for them to take up and move up the professional ladder.
The consistently low budgetary allocation to the education sector has resulted in an inadequate and unequal education system. The pandemic magnified these inequities and left several children out of the education pool. The incompetence of schools to make a seamless transition to digital learning coupled with lack of access to the internet and devices for children has resulted in learning gaps that will be challenging to bridge. Those who are digitally underprivileged have been seriously handicapped this year.
The closure of schools has been particularly catastrophic for children from disadvantaged groups. Apart from learning, these groups have been denied mid-day meals and access to safe spaces. Most of them will be forced into earning wages and will eventually drop out of school. Disparities in learning are another aspect schools will have to deal with when they reopen. Given the limited teacher training resources, this seems like an uphill climb for most institutions.
The migrant exodus during the lockdown in March 2020 served as a grim reminder of the absence of a legal security blanket for the unorganised sector. The draconian lockdown has left millions of informal workers in ruins. Salaried jobs also witnessed a sharp reduction. While informal workers do find jobs after a while at reduced wages, salaried jobs do not come back every quickly, if at all they do. In this second wave, we again saw a significant number of workers go back home, this time on trains and buses as they were given notice and in most states, encouraged to stay back.
The pandemic has been particularly catastrophic for socio-economically backward and vulnerable groups. Unemployment and differential access to education will be terrible for intergenerational mobility for these communities. In the seminar on Tuesday, Professor Amitabh Kundu will compare the impact of COVID19 on employment in the first and second wave across the socio-religious groups. There are so many vulnerable groups in the country. While this pandemic seemed to have spread itself in the big cities and there within the affluent sections of society in the first wave, the second wave has been merciless against the lower income groups and more devastatingly in rural areas
The seminar therefore will discuss these critical issues and look for solutions. The setback that India has faced over the last few years because of a struggling economy that came to a screeching halt last year, will impact jobs across the country. The education sector will have to answer tough questions – what will my high school degree get me? Why should I go to college if factories have closed down? The institutions will worry about fee collections, salary payments and the like. What role should the state and the centre play in this crisis? We will discuss these issues on Tuesday, June 1 at 4 pm.
Amir Ullah Khan and Nahia Hussain are researchers at Centre for Development Policy and Practice (CDPP) based in Hyderabad.