Primary schools have been physically closed across the country since March 2020 – for about 17 months and over 300 working days. Recently, experts have recommended that schools be reopened with due safety protocols in place, with pre-primary and primary schools opening first. Teachers in primary schools are also deeply concerned about the urgency of getting children back to learning in schools and classrooms, and with making up for the loss of learning due to school closure. This is borne out by a field study conducted in August 2021 covering 363 primary school teachers across 18 districts in 5 states by the Azim Premji Foundation.
The key findings of this study across geographies are:
- Children have completely missed out on the regular in-person interaction that is critical for learning, particularly at the primary stage. Even teachers who have interacted with students through different modes during school closure feel that the curriculum of the academic year 2020 – 21 has not been sufficiently covered, and there has been loss of previous learning including foundational abilities, such as describing a picture, reading with understanding, writing simple sentences based on a picture and the ability to perform basic mathematical operations.
- When schools reopen, teaching should be informed by the learning level of each child in the class and not the regular curriculum. Given the extent of loss of learning, assessment of foundational abilities – as against class-specific abilities – across all classes is necessary once schools reopen.
- This in turn would need changes in the curriculum, with a reduction in curricular load to align with foundational abilities, along with a conscious, meticulously planned focus on foundational literacy and numeracy.
- The approach to teaching and learning will need to respond not just to the curriculum change but also to the socio-emotional issues of students. A variety of teaching-learning materials will be required to cater to learners at different levels in each class.
- Autonomy and support from the administration, and time and patience, will be necessary for teachers to address learning loss. All other steps, including curricular and pedagogical changes, will not be useful unless teachers are given sufficient time to work on recovering learning loss in their respective classrooms.
Once schools reopen, appropriate changes in curriculum, school and classroom processes, and materials are critical to compensate for learning loss. Most importantly, we must make teachers the centre of our trust, and empower them with the resources and support to exercise their autonomy in helping each child in their care to learn.