The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic brought with it significant challenges for the education sector. On the one hand, closing schools meant imposing a heavy cost on a whole generation of students, and on the other hand, keeping schools open was a health hazard. India and several other developing countries – reluctantly at first – adopted online teaching. However, this was riddled with problems given the weak access to digital connectivity and devices. So how was the schooling experience in 2020, and are there any lessons for the future? To explore these crucial questions, I4I Editor-in-Chief Ashok Kotwal speaks with Rukmini Banerji (CEO of Pratham; India’s largest education non-profit) and Wilima Wadhwa (Director, Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Centre). Banerji and Wadhwa discuss the mechanics of the ASER 2020 phone survey; availability of educational materials and learning activities in rural homes; how families, communities, and schools came together to keep up children’s learning; sharing resources over WhatsApp and what this implies for equity and the existing learning deficit; expected enrolment and attendance trends when schools reopen, and ‘building back better’ in terms of foundational skills to catch-up on this lost year.
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