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Despite government, private and civil society actors coming together to roll out a wide range of remote learning resources, students are falling behind during the physical closure of schools since March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the lockdown, students have been studying on average three to four hours a day. However, parents, students and teachers believe that learning and overall progress (including social and cultural skills, fitness, etc.) slowed down considerably. Only 60 per cent of students have used any remote learning resources; and even among those, nearly 80 per cent report that they are learning less or significantly less than in school. The study suggests that the main reasons are:

  • Digital channels are not as accessible as often perceived. Ten (10) per cent of students overall do not have access to any of the following devices – smartphone, feature phone, television (TV), radio, or laptop/computer with significant variation between states. More than 10 per cent of students do not have access to mobile phones within or outside of their households.

  • Even when students have access to devices, awareness around using them for remote learning maybe low. Of the respondents who did not use any remote learning opportunities, 45 per cent of them report not being aware of any resources from which to learn. Television (TV) and feature phones are particularly underutilised for learning.

  • Fewer girls, younger students, rural students and government school students use high-tech tools. Use of WhatsApp and YouTube when compared for different categories; girl's usage was 8 per cent lower than that of boys; usage by younger students (5-13-year-old) was 16 per cent lower than that of older students (13-18-year-old); rural students' usage was 15 per cent lower compared to urban students and for students of class 1 to 5, government school students' usage was 10 per cent lower compared to students from private schools.

  • Availability of key offline resources, textbooks and teachers remain far from universal. Despite many states distributing textbooks for the new academic year, nearly one in three parents still ask for support with textbooks and other learning materials. Nearly 30-40 per cent of students are not in touch with their teachers, though this varies significantly by state. A smaller proportion of younger students and rural students are in touch with their teachers.

  • Remote learning resources are generally perceived to be less effective than in-school teaching. Other than home visits, more than half of teachers surveyed perceive remote learning materials and methods to be less effective than classroom teaching.

  • Poor mental health holds students back. About a third of elementary students (as perceived by their parents) and nearly half of secondary students feel that their mental and socio-emotional health has been poor or very poor since May 2020.

  • Students from migrant and scheduled tribes (ST) families face more challenges. While students from migrant and ST families use remote learning resources at similar levels to their peers, when parents were asked if their children were learning as much as before the pandemic, 15 per cent more migrant parents and 9 per cent more ST parents reported that their children were learning less now. Parents of children from migrant families (60 percent) and from ST families (53 per cent) rated their children's mental and socio-emotional well-being as poor or very poor compared to the status reported for the overall sample. There are some bright spots. Certain states and schools have mitigated some of the impacts of school closures.

  • While students in private schools mostly used WhatsApp, private tuition and live video classes, their government school peers mostly used textbooks, teacher home visits and YouTube for learning, so that there were no major differences in overall usage levels.

  • Over half of the students who used remote learning did so across multiple resources. WhatsApp is the most used tool by students and teachers alike (over half of students and 89 per cent of surveyed teachers). Many parents, adolescents and teachers see value in technology tools, some even believe they are more effective than in-person learning. Of the teachers who found WhatsApp, YouTube and live video classes effective, approximately 40 per cent thought they were more effective than in- person learning.

  • Moreover, students who are perceived to be learning more are also more likely to have used high-tech tools. Parents and teachers have also identified important support needs to improve the remote learning experience and deal with safe school returns. Parents said they need help with data, devices and school

textbooks. Similarly, teachers requested help with devices and better network access during closures, as well as with having guidelines in place for safety and smaller class sizes once schools re-open, along with the provision of sanitation kits. These needs will extend beyond the pandemic period as they are important for improving the quality and equity of learning. More than 90 per cent of students expect to return if schools re-open in the next three months, mainly to learn more and to better prepare for exams. But it was also observed that there is a serious risk of many students never returning to school due to pressures beyond just the immediate health risks - even after schools re-open. While health concerns are by far the largest deterrent to returning to school, a sizeable number of respondents cited financial constraints as well – 10 per cent of families could not afford to send children back to school and 6 per cent needed children to help earn an income. These findings provide knowledge and inspire opportunities for further exploration of how we might enhance remote learning during the current school closures, better prepare for re-opening, and strengthen the education system over the long term.

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