Over 166,000 students in Delhi’s government and municipal schools are missing, the impact of education moving online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The number is roughly 8.5% of the students enrolled in the Capital’s schools.
The data, culled from the education department of Delhi, and civic bodies that run the municipal schools, shows that these children have simply fallen off the map — the schools say they can’t trace them.
Government officials and school authorities say the migration of thousands of families to their home states during and after the lockdown, and the sudden shift to online education are the main reasons for this.
While schools have already reopened for classes 10 and 12 last month, they have been allowed to call in students of classes 9 and 11 from February 5.
According to figures available with the Delhi government and the three civic bodies of east, north and south Delhi, the maximum number of students who can’t be found are those enrolled in schools run by the North Delhi Municipal Corporation (or North MCD).
Officials at North MCD’s education department said around 20% (58,000) of the 290,000 students enrolled across 714 schools could not be reached despite several attempts over the past 10 months. In schools run by the south civic body, around 15% (44,000) of the 284,000 students in 581 schools can’t be reached. And in schools run by the east municipal corporation, around 20% (33,600) of the 168,000 students enrolled in 365 schools are completely out of touch.
The situation is better in Delhi government schools. Only around 31,000 (approximately 2.5% ) of nearly 1,255,000 students enrolled in its 1,030 schools (from kindergarten to class 10) can’t be found.
According to assessments by Unicef, over 460 million children across the world were unable to access remote learning tools last year. The UN has called on countries to ensure a generation of children do not lose out an education due to the pandemic.
Over the past few months, the government and municipal schools have attempted door-to-door visits, sending letters and assignments to addresses on their records, and forming peer groups to locate the students.
Officials at Delhi government schools said a majority of students who can’t be found are those who were promoted from municipal schools at the end of the last academic session and were admitted to class 6. Awadesh Kumar Jha, head of Sarvodya Co-ed Vidyalaya in Rohini, said, “At least 40 students are completely unreachable at our school. Of them, 25 are in class 6. We have taken all possible steps but these children were not found at the addresses mentioned in our records. We got to know from the neighbourhood that these families returned to their villages after the lockdown and have not returned yet.”
Every year, around 100,000 students move from municipal schools to government ones in class 6; municipal schools only offer education till class 5. Due to the pandemic, the induction of such students happened online this time, on the basis of names sent by municipal schools.
“Either the families of these students don’t have mobile phones or they have changed their numbers and did not get the information about the admission of their children in class 6. We are trying to trace such children,” said the principal of another government school, requesting anonymity.
Then there are the younger children in municipal schools. Vibha Singh, principal of a municipal school in Gandhinagar, east Delhi, said 49 students can’t be found. “Their houses are locked and their numbers are not reachable. We are assuming that they migrated to their villages during the lockdown…”
‘Will continue to search’
Experts said it’s possible that some of them may have been pulled out of school and pushed into working to help family finances roiled by the pandemic.
Sanjay Gupta, director of NGO CHETNA, said, “Extensive steps need to be taken to trace students who have been pushed into child labour due to financial difficulties wrought by the pandemic. The priorities of parents have also changed amid the financial crises. The switch to online education is also responsible for the situation. There is a possibility of more drop-outs if this situation continues.”
The Delhi says it has managed to trace almost 97.5% of the students from KG to class 10.
Mukesh Suryan, chairperson, south MCD education committee, said, “As per the Right to Education Act, 2009, we can’t strike off any student from the rolls up to class 8, whether they attend school or not. We will continue searching for these students with the help of fellow students and neighbours throughout the year.”
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