Hard times for kidsFailure to address the present crisis of the children is bound to be reflected in the future.
Bal Diwas, or Children’s Day, celebrated in Nepal on September 14, came and passed, with a few perfunctory celebrations organised here and there. The theme for this year was pretty apt: “Protection of child rights, our collective responsibility”. The government’s official programme even included “Impact of Covid-19 and ways for solution”, to be organised in every province on September 15. A local government in Morang district even offered a young girl the role of the chief of the rural municipality for a day. But have we really bothered to understand how the children are doing, and what we need to do for them?
A whole new generation of children is going to grow up, without seeing much of the outer world. For the children who are below five years old today, their world revolves only around their household, and many of them also do not know there are other children their age, as they have been homebound for over a year and a half now. As a result, children are deprived of the opportunity to learn social skills and form friendships with fellow children. UNICEF has said, while the children are not the face of this pandemic, they risk being among its biggest victims as more families become poorer and children face a learning crisis. UNICEF also estimates that at least one in three school-going children—463 million children worldwide—were unable to access remote learning after their schools closed. This gap leaves a significant section of the student population unable to compete with their technologically sophisticated peers, exacerbating the psychological crisis among the less privileged ones.
While most health officials, parents and educational experts oppose the idea of opening schools amid the pandemic, school administrators are keen to get the students back in the physical classrooms. School administrators are keen to open physical classes not because they are concerned about the wellbeing of students, but because they need to collect fees from guardians right before the festivals. Of course, they claim that safety protocols will be followed. But how many students share a common toilet in schools? How will schools ensure that there is enough space in classrooms to maintain physical distancing? How will schools ensure that their classrooms and playgrounds do not become new Covid hotspots? How will physical distancing be maintained in school buses which often carry more students than the seating capacity?
School administrators must be able to answer these questions before they bring into effect a new ill-thought-out plan of reopening schools even as the pandemic rages on. The government and the schools do not explain whether they have consulted the parents before enforcing physical classrooms. Earlier this month, the government came up with the home schooling concept, whereby schools would identify a senior or most educated member of the household as a teacher to the household children. If implemented well, it is an excellent concept that relies on mobilising easily available human resources for the education of children. But as schools press for physical classrooms, or online classrooms where a school teacher will be in charge, the concept is hard to take off.
The government should analyse how disruption in the daily lives and learning capabilities have impacted children, and formulate short- as well as long-term strategies to ensure their holistic well-being. Failure to address the present crisis of the children is bound to be reflected in the future of the country.