Teachers getting pulled up for ‘absence’ in midst of Covid underscores the need for online education

A village school management committee (SMC) in Nagaland has issued a show-cause notice to the teachers, including the officiating headmaster, of a government school over “continued absence since end-March 2020”. All educational institutions had been ordered by the Centre in mid-March to shut down—Unlock 3 didn’t talk of reopening of schools, but there have been reports that states are mulling over reopening in September. However, in the present instance, the state education department had directed teachers to be present at their posting, in order to make notes, clarify doubts and prepare worksheets for distribution to students.

Indeed, members of the SMC, as per The Times of India, have claimed that, without teachers, existing infrastructure, including a projector purchased by the village authorities and the SMC, couldn’t be used. While the threat of the pandemic reaching a remote village in a northeastern state is low, the matter underscores the need to urgently roll out online education. This would require fast-paced delivery of digital connectivity and infrastructure as well as efforts to boost digital literacy.

But, this is easier said than done, and definitely not a remedy that can take effect overnight. That said, the concern of the SMC is genuine; children are losing out on precious learning time, and studies show the deleterious effects of gaps in schooling periods on learning outcomes. Even as states mull over whether to keep schools shut for the remainder of the pandemic or to reopen, the context of this Nagaland village shows perhaps a one-size-fits-all approach—like a blanket shutting of schools—may not work, especially with students and guardians constrained for alternatives.

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