How Public education in India can be made high quality while continuing to be at no cost

If our children need to have a better tomorrow, they need to be in school today. However, as many as 13 Crore Children (130 Million) in India have not been to a school in 18 months and the cost of keeping our schools closed — especially to the children studying in Public (Government) Schools and to their parents — is enormous.

While we have been trying to deal with the Pandemic, we have certainly as a Nation, deprioritized children and their education and this is certainly causing long-term damage. Across the country, (children – especially those studying in Government Schools) have suffered because across states and irrespective of parties – the people in power, were too willing to close public schools. Even as we allowed various businesses to operate the lack of prioritising the reopening of schools was disturbing. As the pandemic upended life, millions of children who had been expected to enrol in schools did not show up, either in person or online.

Agreed – with cases rising and being a witness to one wave after another – it may have been necessary after-all to shut some schools. But was that the last resort? 18 months since, and if we can let bygones be bygones – there is a compelling need right now – to reinvent Public Schools through endless innovation and a contagious passion that can help us to build a better future for children and their families with more learning, more time, more fun, more health and more opportunity.

We as a society need to now be the kind of persons who not only believe in a nation where every child’s education matters, but should be dedicated to making it happen. And we all have a role to play in this. While we don’t have too many perfect solutions, there are many programs already promoting this opportunity and reducing the gaps over time and the time to start is Now. In fact, when we are sending people to Mars, it baffles me that we do not yet have a solution to get the 130 million children in schools and learning. There is no substitute to Public Education, and with the system having been a witness to prolonged school closures and the National Education Policy 2020, clearly setting forward a new direction – it is perhaps a great opportunity to Reimagine Education and bring back the focus of what we believe is high quality education at no cost to the millions of children who will be the future of India and assure them of an equal chance.

We soon need to see every school equipped with the best facilities (Power, Power Back Up, Functional Toilets, Well Light Classrooms, Play Areas, and Empowered Teachers) and also have Video Conferencing, Stable Internet Connections, Hi Quality Content that can be downloaded on to personal devices, all of them promoting flexible and blended learning because children do get much more than academics at school. They also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise along with emotional support that cannot be easily replicated online.

With early childhood education now being a part of the Public School System (5+3+3+4 outlined in NEP 2020, children will spend 5 years in the Foundational stage, 3 years in the Preparatory stage, 3 years in the Middle stage, and 4 years in the Secondary stage), there is no great substitute for quality, in-person early childhood education. For many students, this will be their introduction to school and they will be taught to cooperate, to co exist and also to identify numbers and letters, it is also at this age that children are first diagnosed with learning disabilities.

We are in a very different place than we were a year ago. For some parents, teachers and officials, keeping schools open when a new, poorly understood virus was circulating seemed like an unacceptable risk. For many school closures pose the bigger danger — of learning loss, widening educational disparities and worsening physical and mental health, not to mention the hardships for parents.

We have effective vaccines, that teachers can now take and soon will also be available for children – and more importantly we now have a heightened awareness of some of the challenges that children face when they’re not in school. Let us be very clear – There’s huge uncertainty, so we need great humility in looking ahead, but it is certain that we and our children have a stake in this system and children belong in school. Finding a way to prioritise and fund public education is as important a challenge as climate change.

We know (Children) + (Education) = Unstoppable. Let’s make sure our leaders know that too.
What changes when 130 million children in India get an education?
(And our children are absolutely worth it.)

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