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Renowned economist Jean Drèze calls school closure in Jharkhand ‘catastrophic’ for elementary education

Ranchi: Noted economist Jean Drèze has criticized Jharkhand government’s decision to keep schools closed for close to two years since the outbreak of covid-19 pandemic calling it as catastrophic to the state of elementary education in the state.

In a letter addressed to chief minister Hemant Soren expressing his inability to attend the pre-budget consultation on Thursday citing illness due to covid-19, he said that he was keen to attend, particularly to draw government’s attention towards the crisis in elementary education due to continued closure of schools.

He wrote, “The worst aspect of the crisis we are facing today is not the economic crisis or even the health crisis, it is the schooling crisis. When the pandemic subsides, the economy is likely to pick up and adults will return relatively soon to their normal lives. But children may pay the price for their entire life.”

Jharkhand has the world record of longest continuous closure of primary schools — almost two years, he noted. “A small minority of privileged children have been able to continue studying online during this period, but online education does not work for poor children. Most of them have been virtually abandoned by the schooling system for two years,” he underlined.

“This prolonged exclusion from the schooling system has led to a revival of mass illiteracy among children. At the time of the 2011 census, the literacy rate in the age group of 8-12 years was close to 90% in Jharkhand. By 2020, most children in that age group must have been literate. But today, when we survey children of that age among poor Adivasi and Dalit families of rural Jharkhand, we find that a majority of them have lost the ability to read a simple sentence. This was one of the findings of the Emergency Report on School Education, released in September 2021,” he said.

“When schools finally reopen, many of these children will recover their ability to read and write and also enjoy other aspects of learning and school life. But many will not – they will become de facto drop-outs. Remember, children will soon enter classes three grades ahead of the grade they were enrolled in before the crisis. How are they supposed to cope?,” he questioned.

“With this background, I feel that Jharkhand needs to plan for a massive literacy campaign for primary-school children in the next two years, in addition to other measures that may be required in this situation. The aim of this campaign should be to ensure that no child in Jharkhand is deprived of a chance to learn to read and write. The details of this campaign need careful thought. Perhaps some inspiration can be taken from Tamil Nadu’s “ITK” scheme. If the campaign is based on mobilising local educated youngsters (especially women, Adivasis and Dalits), it could reach every village at relatively low cost, and provide some supplementary income to these youngsters. The support of teachers, of course, is also essential,” he added, appealing CM to consider this proposal and to ensure that an adequate provision for it is made in the forthcoming Budget.

“Needless to say, I am also hoping that schools will reopen very soon,” he said.