Economist Dreze writes to Jharkhand CM on ‘catastrophic state of elementary education’

Economist Jean Dreze wrote a letter to Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren on Thursday, saying that the state has the “world record of longest continuous closure of primary schools”, and that he wanted to draw the CM’s attention to the “catastrophic state of elementary education”.

“Chief Minister, much to my disappointment, I will not be able to participate in the pre-Budget consultation today, as I am recovering from Covid. I was keen to attend, particularly to draw your attention to the catastrophic state of elementary education in Jharkhand. 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,” Dreze wrote in the letter.

As the pandemic subsides, Dreze said, 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. 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 wrote.

During the pandemic, Jharkhand, like other states, closed schools and started classes through social media and other internet portals, Doordarshan and radio. However, according to the government’s own data, only 35 per cent of students have benefited from content distributed in this way.

Dreze wrote: “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.”

He said that when schools reopen, many of these children will recover their ability to read and write. However, he added, “…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?”

Dreze suggested that Jharkhand needed 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.

He wrote: “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… I appeal to you to consider this proposal and to ensure that adequate provision for it is made in the forthcoming Budget.”

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