Members of Parliament, education experts and teachers have underlined the need to reopen schools and expressed concern over the learning losses suffered by students.
The Parliamentarians' Group for Children (PGC) with support from the United Nation's Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Swaniti Initiative had organised an online round-table conference to discuss the reopening of schools and various measures to be undertaken towards child-centric pandemic recovery.
During this discussion, they suggested various models for schools that would help in regaining normalcy and recover the learning losses.
Schools across Maharashtra resumed physical sessions for classes 5 to 12 on Monday after being shut for over one-and-a-half years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As per Maharashtra's Education department-UNICEF Rapid Assessment Survey of November 2020, 36 per cent of children have not had any learning material in the past 14 months since the closures and 16 per cent of children are already employed outside the homes and at risk of never returning to school, the UNICEF said in a release.
"The circumstances warrant urgent actions at all fronts as this generation of children might not ever achieve their full learning and earning capabilities, which ultimately is a national loss," the release stated.
Gaurav Gogoi, an MP, said that in their formative years, when children require the physical presence of a school to learn and grow, even beyond the realms of a textbook, the pandemic forced them to live a life in solitude.
"School closures come at the price of learning. School closures impacted learning and negatively impacted children's health, nutrition, and overall well-being including mental health at critical developmental stages," Gogai said.
Rajeshwari Chandrasekar, Chief of the field office, UNICEF Maharashtra, welcomed the government's recent decision to reopen schools.
"We must now focus on reopening the primary grades as well given that the risk of COVID to this population is the least, as stated in several Lancet reports, and as the learning loss is the highest, given the challenges of remote learning," she said.
MP Dr. Fauzia Khan, a prominent member of PGC, said that loss of discipline among the students was another issue. Many children were just physically present during the online classes but did not learn.
"There is an overall crisis in child rights due to the closure of the schools, especially pre-primary students were affected more. We also must ensure that the most vulnerable children, children with disabilities, should be protected while it comes to education," Khan said.
Senior journalist Neeraja Choudhury suggested forming a group of citizens, parents, officials, teachers under the collector at the district level to track down the ground difficulties in education.
PGC is a non-partisan self-governed collective of the MPs to suggest and take actions towards advancing the well-being and rights of children. MPs Dr Vikas Mahatme, Arvind Sawant, Sanjay Jadhav, Vandana Chavan and Hemant Godse also attended the conference.
In the conference, teachers from various parts of Maharashtra narrated their efforts to continue education in the absence of schools. Sagar Ramesh Sathe and Sneha Mohite from "Nine is Mine" presented a charter of demands by children at the conference.