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Indian minority children’s education worst hit during lockdown: study

Indian minority children’s education worst hit during lockdown: study

Porni Banerjee

Closure of schools during lockdown has negatively impacted the education of children especially from marginalised communities such as Dalits, tribals and Muslims with girls at greater vulnerability, as observed by Human Rights Watch World report 2021.

These vulnerable groups faced greater challenges as they lacked access to digital devices for online study as only less than 15 per cent of Dalit, tribal and Muslim families could enjoy the benefits of internet services, as per a survey conducted by Oxfam, a non-profit organisation.

A UNICEF report suggested that while many private schools offered online classes, only 24 per cent of Indian households had access to the internet because of a large urban-rural and gender divide, thereby widening the learning gap across high, middle, and low-income families.

In most states, government schools failed to deliver quality education during the lockdown, putting such ‘at-risk’ children at greater risk of dropping out and being pushed into child labour and early marriage.

“The pandemic has exposed the fragility of children, less by the virus itself but much more by the indirect and long-term fallout.

Millions of vulnerable children are losing out on their development and learning opportunities and their right to survive”, said Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF Representative in India.

In addition to lack of online education, the HRW report highlighted that millions of children in India, particularly those from Dalit and tribal communities, were also at risk of malnutrition and illness during the pandemic because the government has failed to adequately provide proper meals, health care, and immunisations that many marginalised children rely on from government schools and anganwadi centers, which were closed in order to stop the spread of the virus.

The UN report put forward that in India, around 20 million children under five years of age suffered from wasting, over 40 million children were chronically malnourished and more than half of Indian women aged 15-49 years were anaemic.

“The most vulnerable families need to be protected by social protection schemes that can help them access healthcare, schooling for children, afford nutrition etc. This can only be ensured by a firm commitment from the governments and all stakeholders”, noted Haque.

Schools were declared to remain shut by the Centre from March last year that affected more than 280 million students with 28 million children who were enrolled in pre-school education in anganwadi centres.

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