Lalit Sharma, a primary school teacher from the Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, will be put on poll duty soon for his local council elections.

Sharma simply doesn’t have the time. “In the middle of all our government duties, we also have to attend teacher training sessions on DIKSHA DIKSHA DIKSHA DIKSHA, or digital infrastructure for school education, is the Indian government's edtech platform , prepare online classes, and track down students we’ve lost complete touch with,” an exasperated Sharma says on a phone call with The Ken

At the cusp of a new school year in 2021, Sharma was hopeful that online classes would finally end. With the physical trappings of a classroom, a teacher, and peers, students would learn again. The Uttar Pradesh government had even printed a set of remedial guides in mathematics and Hindi for teachers to kick off a 48-day remediation plan once school started. 

The surging number surging number NDTV 1.61 Lakh Fresh Covid-19 Cases In India Read more  of Covid-19 cases in India, though, has put an early damper on Sharma’s hopes. It’s now uncertain when schools might reopen, and Sharma is afraid that a huge chunk of his primary grade students would have fallen behind. He says he was only able to access 10-15% of his class online because of a lack of access to data and smartphones. “Even us teachers had to spend upto Rs 600 (US$8) a month for data recharges.”

Sharma’s fears aren’t overblown. A report published by Azim Premji University in February indicates that 92% of government school students across grades 2-6 in five states have forgotten at least one “specific language ability” from the previous year. Students have also forgotten foundational concepts like numeracy and literacy from 1-2 grades prior, the report said. Without mastering these concepts, they’d struggle in senior grades. 

Losing an entire school year is gut-wrenching for India’s low-income students, who mostly attend government schools or affordable private schools affordable private schools The Ken Lockdown lessons: India’s affordable private schools face a reckoning Read more . While access to schooling is less of an issue now, the quality of education and problems like teacher absenteeism, rote learning, and lack of quality resources have put Indian students at a cruel disadvantage. 

Even before Covid, almost 40% of grade 1 students were unable to recognise letters, according to an ASER ASER ASER The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is published by education non-profit Pratham 2019 report.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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