After more than 600 days shut out, Delhi's students just want to go back to school

Nueva Delhi Dharini Mathur’s son had just turned 4 when he started pre-school online. Más que 600 days later, he still sits behind his computer screen, attempting to learn virtuallywhile making zero contact with his classmates and teachers.

He is one of más que 4 millones de niños en India’s capital, Delhi, forced out of the classroom because of the pandemia de coronavirus.
The ongoing mass closure, according to Mathur, is severely affecting their ability to learn.
    Our little children have been out of school, no peer interactions,” Mathur said. “This isolation, and the lack of development that comes with that, is really quite critical.
      The Delhi government ordered schools shut in March 2020 when cases started creeping up across the country. They have remained largely closed for nearly two years.
        It is one of the world’s longest school closures. And for a city with glaring disparities in development among its population, the prolonged learning loss has led to concerns it could increase poverty, reduce earning capacity, and result in mental and physical stress to millions.
        In Delhi alone, hundreds of thousands of children from lower income communitieswho cannot afford laptops and live in cramped and unsanitary environmentsare at risk of being denied an education altogether.
          En agosto, Mathur petitioned the state government to reopen schools. Nearly six months later, Delhi officials met Thursday to discuss a potential reopening.
          In the meeting, Delhi’s chief minister and his deputy proposed easing the restrictions to the capital territory’s Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, who has the power to implement the changes as head of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA).
          While the officials agreed to ease some anti-epidemic measures, including revoking a weekend curfew and opening government offices, schools will remain shut.
          We closed school when it was not safe for children but excessive caution is now harming our children,” Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “A generation of children will be left behind if we do not open our schools now.
          CNN has contacted Baijal’s office for comment but did not receive a response.
          Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia at a news conference on January 14, 2022 in New Delhi.

          Asia’s longest school lockdown

          India is second only to Uganda when it comes to Covid school closures.
          According to a report by the United Nations, India closed its schools for 82 semanas — o 574 dias — between March 2020 and October 2021. Uganda closed classrooms for 83 semanas.
          But India’s school closures aren’t uniform across the country, as each state is responsible for implementing their own restrictions.
          En marzo 2021, India’s government passed a controversial bill giving sweeping powers to Delhi’s unelected lieutenant governor to approve all executive decisions in the capital territory.
          Baijal was appointed lieutenant governor by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) en diciembre 2016.
          En el momento, Delhi’s elected Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal criticized the law as “inconstitucional” y “anti-democracy,” claiming the BJP’s move woulddrastically curtailthe powers of the representative government.
          Ahora, as the head of the DDMA, Baijal is responsible for drafting and implementing Covid-19 regulations. For nearly two years, he has kept Delhi schools closed, citing health concerns.
          Following its first closure in March 2020, Delhi schools remained shut for the rest of the year. They reopened briefly in early 2021 — but were forced shut again when India experienced its devastating second wave of infections in April that year.
          Schools reopened in November as cases stabilized but then closed again in December due to severe air pollution. And a surge in Omicron cases has kept them shut in January.
          The consequence has been “catastrófico” according to Shaheen Mistry, founder of non-profit organization Teach for India.
          The impact is on multiple levels, the most obvious being learning loss,” Mistry said.
          According to Mistry, 10% of children in Delhi’s government schools have dropped out of education because of the pandemic and its economic impact on poorer families.
          Child marriage has gone up, violence against children has gone up, nutrition is a huge issue as many of our children depend on school meals,” Mistry said. “The reality is we are coming onto two years of school closure. Kids have just lost so much learning.
          But the problem isn’t limited to cities. A 2021 survey de 1,400 households by local NGO Road Scholarz found only 8% of children in rural India were studying online regularly, tiempo 37% were not studying at alllargely because they don’t have access to computers and smartphones.
          Girls are further marginalized. De acuerdo a NGO Right to Education Forum, Un estimado 10 million secondary school girls in India could drop out of school because of the pandemicputting them at risk of poverty, child marriage, trafficking and violence.
          We need to be prepared that the impact of this will be very long-term,” Mistry said.
          A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a government school, in New Delhi, India on January 20, 2022.

          Anxiety and isolation

          Mathur’s son met his teacher online in March 2020. En el momento, the boy did not know how to read or type and had never used video conferencing before.
          It broke our heart to see him struggling on Zoom every day,” Mathur said. “He had to unmute when he wanted to speak, and mute when he wasn’t speaking. He had to learn how to write online. How do you learn how to hold a pencil online?”
          And he never got the chance to meet his classmates either. Mathur is worried the formative years of her son’s lifearguably some of the most crucialare in jeopardy because of the closures.
          We are really worried about his social development,” Mathur said. “He’s never had a chance to learn how to interact with children his age. As much as we try to give him that, there’s no place like school.
          Rubita Gidwani’s 13-year-old daughter was also forced out of the classroom because of the pandemicand she says the cost of the closures are apparent.
          The anxiety that children are facing adds up to a lot more,” Gidwani said. “You want a happy child. You want a child to develop overall. And I think that has been impacted.
          billón de gastos el año pasado ayudó a impulsar el aumento de la inflación, the United Nation’s Children’s Fund urgedgovernments to do everything in their powerto reopen schools.
          We need bold action to enable every child to return to school,” the UNICEF statement said. “This includes providing comprehensive support with a particular focus on marginalized children in each community, such as catch-up classes, mental health and nutrition support, protection and other key services.
          En septiembre 2020, la Organización Mundial de la Salud (QUIÉN) said school closures haveclear negative impacts on child health, education and development.
          According to WHO, children and adolescents usually demonstrate fewer and milder Covid-19 symptoms compared to adults, and are less likely than adults to experience severe Covid.
          Between December 2019 and October 2021, children under age 5 represented 2% of reported global Covid cases, while older children ages 5 a 14 accounted for 7% of global reported cases, WHO said in a statement in November last year.
          sin embargo, nuevo, potentially fast spreading variants, such as Omicron, have led to renewed concerns worldwide over the risks faced by children in the classroomand their role in spreading the virus.
          En meses recientes, el Reino Unido, parts of Europe and the United States, have all seen a rise in pediatric infections linked to Omicron. The uptick has threatened to disrupt plans to reopen schools. In the US, the Biden administration has insisted schools aremore than equippedto stay open, aunque some elected officials are erring on the side of caution by delaying the new term.
          In India, more than two thirds of the population may already have some level of immunity against Covid-19, according to a July 2021 serological survey from the government-run Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
          More than half of the children (6 a 17 años) were sero-positive, and sero-prevalence was similar in rural and urban areas,” ICMR director general Balram Bhargava said in July.
          Vaccinations have also started for children above age 15, con más que 43 million having received their first dose as of Thursday.
          But as schools in other Indian states gradually reopen, Delhi’s classrooms remain shut. En un comunicado el miércoles, Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Sisodia said online learning can never replace offline studies. “During Covid, our priority was children’s safety,” él dijo, adding it was important to reopen schools.
            For Mathur, the issue goes beyond Covid.
            We as parents believe that our children lack a voice, they lack a vote,” ella dijo. “Someone needs to speak up on behalf of our children.

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