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Closure of schools impacted poor households and marginalised social groups in India: Oxfam report – Times of India

MUMBAI: The recently released Oxfam India’s report – the inequality virus during the World Economic Forum’s ‘Davos Dialogues’ reveals that lockdown resultant closure of schools and the shift to online classes had serious consequences for children particularly those belonging to the poorer households and marginalized social groups.

The report shows that the lockdown has resulted in an unequal risk of dropout among students. “Estimates suggest that out-of-school rates will double in a year. The likelihood of dropout also increases with decreasing wealth quintile. Approximately 52% adolescent girls reported time spent on studies significantly decreased in the face of growing digital divide, fights at home and domestic violence,” said highlights from the report.

Online learning has also increased the digital divide among students across the country. According to the report, out of the poorest 20 percent households in India, only 2.7% have access to a computer and 8.9% to internet facilities. The access is poorer among marginalized groups. “Ninety-six percent of STs and 96.2 percent of SC households whose children are in school lack access to a computer. Only 15.5% rural females can either use a computer or the internet. Only 4% of rural households had a computer when the pandemic hit and less than 15% rural households had an internet connection,” revealed the report.

Oxfam India also conducted a survey in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh among 1200 parents and found that close to half the parents spent over 20% of their income on education during the lockdown and 39% parents were charged hiked fees despite the physical closure of schools and state guidelines restricting fee hikes.

Amitabh Behar, Chief Executive Officer of Oxfam India said, “Our survey reports that close to 40% of teachers in government schools fear that the prolonged school closure might lead to a third of the students not returning once schools reopen. It is often the socially marginalized that are the poorest. Hence, it is likely that a higher rate of drop-out will be witnessed among Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. Many of them will become victims of child labour and child marriage. The worrisome aspect being that girls are more vulnerable as they are exposed to additional risks including early and forced marriage, violence and early pregnancies.”

Oxfam India has through its report recommended that there is a need to prioritize safe and equitable reopening for early grades to ensure that the most marginalized children, especially those who cannot learn independently get access to learning through in-person classes as well as due entitlements such as mid-day meal, uniforms and textbooks.

The report also recommends to provide a stimulus package that mitigates learning losses and gets marginalized children and girls into school, and increase–or at least maintain–public education expenditure.

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