Lockdown 2.0: What Bihar must do now to safeguard its children
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, EPIB has set up a rapid research team consisting of our project manager Abhishek Anand contributing from Ranchi, Digital Fellow Anisha Jain based in Delhi, Digital Fellow and former project manager Rakesh K. Rajak based in Bihar and advisory board member Martin Haus based in Germany. We are gathering information from the ground, local, regional and national governments up to global advisory bodies like the WHO, UNESCO and Unicef. We then aim to compile the information tailored to Bihar to provide advice to policy makers, bureaucrats, school leaders and communities in times of crisis and short news cycles. We try our best to provide accurate information from trustworthy sources. If you find any error, please contact us immediately.
Bihar must urgently act on two fronts to ensure that children’s education is not harmed beyond repair due to the Covid-19 crisis.
1. General income support and mid-day meals
As Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Abhijit Banerjee together with Raghuram Rajan have pointed out, there is a need for urgent action to avoid vast numbers of families being pushed into absolute poverty and even starvation. There is no time now for targeted programs with a high administrative burden. Instead, it is important to leave nobody behind.
Their recommendation is to expand the Public Distribution System (PDS) and to ensure the delivery of school meal to the homes of children. We had urged the Government of Bihar earlier to switch from Direct Benefit Transfer to the provision of in-kind food for children. This will be a major task for frontline bureaucrats, but it is required to ensure that children do not starve. Withdrawing cash from far-away ATMs is not practical during a lockdown.
2. Gear up educational programs by low-tech means and offline solutions
In my tola, of 50 households only two have a TV.
tells Digital Fellow Rakesh K. Rajak who is currently at his native village.
While many State governments have started Apps and TV-programs to offer digital education content, the vast majority of children in Bihar has no access to these channels.
School closures lead to losses in absolute learning (i.e. children forget things) for the poor while the affluent can use digital means, research indicates.
What Bihar needs to do now is to start a full-fledged, around-the-clock radio-based education program for the entire State. It is likely that schools cannot fully resume soon, also because government schools in Bihar lack the required infrastructure to allow physical distancing. Classrooms are already overcrowded. Hence, it is crucial to provide an education lifeline that allows continued learning. This must be supplemented by an accessible ICT system using mass-SMS facilities and an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS). Such a system is already in place in Bihar to monitor the mid-day meal. A similar system can be used to actively call students and parents to keep them connected to schools. In addition, it can be used for a rapid survey to find out which children have no access to radios. For them, special arrangements must be made and children must be equipped with solar-powered devices. Furthermore, worksheets should be distributed (e.g. together with the mid-day meal) and be linked to the radio program. Such interventions have proven to be effective.
So far, the vast majority of Bihar's children is cut off from any educational program. It is crucial that action is taken immediately to avoid that many children drop-out after a prolonged cut-off from schools.