Children in grades 8 and 9 “give up” when schools reopen

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By our representative
Striving for zero discrimination in educational institutions, the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ-NCDHR), at a national convention organized in collaboration with the Center for Equity and Social Inclusion (CSEI), insisted that to get children out of school to schools, incentives should be provided, including study materials, digital devices and nutritious food.
Even making an assessment of each student’s learning loss, speakers at the meeting called for a massive overhaul of bridging courses, leveraging the private sector to provide digital devices to students in economically weaker sections and marginalized, and a credible, fair and transparent system of ongoing training evaluation, among others.
More than 70 delegates attended this convention to gather voices and input from across the country on the issues and challenges facing marginalized communities in educational institutions at the onset of a pandemic. Delegates also deliberated on the state’s preparedness when educational institutions resume and developed strategies to reduce learning gaps.
The highlight of the convention were the voices of children from Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan. Children shared their stories of caste-based discrimination and violence, inability to access programs, gaps in digital learning, problems with midday meal programs, high drop-out rates resulting from livelihoods, emotional and mental health, learning loss, etc.
Rosalin Das, a Dalit child from Odisha, said, “Most students in grades 8 and 9 drop out due to two years of online education, where Dalit children did not have access to smart phones and laptops”. Badriprasad Rout, an Adivasi boy from Odisha, also mentioned that “not only boys but also girls engage in odd jobs, like child labor.”
Deepika Mahey, another Dalit girl from Himachal Pradesh, mentioned her difficulty in completing the online course with only one smartphone at home. “We, the brothers and sisters at home, had to choose who would attend the class. If one could attend, the other had to miss the class.
Addressing the convention, Adv Rahul Singh, Secretary General, NDMJ-NCDHR, emphasized, “While we are well aware of the severe discrimination faced by Dalit and minority students in our country, getting the story of the violence, discrimination, learning loss of children is heartbreaking. Government, states and school authorities must urgently take serious action to ensure the safety and security of our children as schools reopen; it should have proper infrastructure and guidelines in place to protect our children.
Annie Namala, Executive Director, Center for Social Equity and Inclusion, New Delhi, said: “The evolution of the online education system has deepened inequalities in Indian society where not everyone has access to smartphones, computers/laptops and a stable internet connection. There has been a clear digital divide in the marginalized community, creating a learning loss for children.
Beena Pallical, General Secretary, NDMJ-NCDHR, highlighted the need to “revisit our curriculum, reshape the curriculum and re-budget the curriculum, to empower and empower Dalit and Adivasi children.”
Kiran from Naaz Foundation, Delhi, a transgender activist, shared “the struggle of Dalit children and a child from the third gender or LGBTQ community facing similar discrimination, which often forces these tender children to commit suicide”.
Anjela Taneja from Oxfam raised a critical point: “The digital divide need not be small. The problem is huge, digital education has pushed back 15-year-old Dalit children, and a whole generation is impacted.”
Jasmeet Kaur, Assistant Professor, Department of Education, Mata Sundari College, University of Delhi, emphasized, “Providing a happy space for children at home and at school, which should encourage children to return to school”.

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