Devotion VS Education


Devotion VS Education

Shilpa Roy | June 06, 2020 17:57 hrs

“Everywhere is His hands and feet, eyes, heads and faces. His ears too are in all places, for He pervades everything in the universe” - Bhagavad Gita Verse 13.14

India took its first step forward towards unlocking the COVID-19 lockdown from 1st June with the focus on reviving the economy of the country. One of the major steps taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs was the re-opening of places of worship. But what is bothering the conscious citizens of India is how feasible it is to open temples and keep educational institutions shut? Is devotion more important than education? 

Governments around the world have closed schools and colleges in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic. These nationwide closures have impacted almost 70% of the world’s student population. It has been around 3 months since schools have remained closed in more than 190 countries, affecting 1.57 billion children and youth. As per the data provided by UNESCO, 100 countries have not yet announced a date for schools to reopen. In India alone, more than 320 million students have been impacted by the lockdown. To maintain the pace of studies and to close the gap of curriculum-driven-learning most of the schools have resorted to online teaching. The Indian government as well as the state governments, responded positively to the situation and started online classes. 

The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has made several arrangements such as apps, online portals, and websites for students. Even the Assam government has taken considerable steps to continue the flow of studies while staying home to contain the virus. But the basic necessity of online teaching is a proper internet connection and I am afraid that the light of education will not reach the marginalized sections of society due to lack of internet facility. Lack of access to technology or good internet connectivity is an obstacle to continued learning. And another aspect which we cannot ignore is that most parents do not let their wards to own their personal mobile phones because it exposes them to the vulnerabilities of the virtual world making them prone to cyber crime victims. And a study by a scholar from Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi shows that urban people’s access to the internet as compared to their rural counterparts widens the gap between one student from another. 

With less than 75% of total literacy rate of India in the last 2011 census, millions are entirely denied their fundamental right of education and we can only imagine how high this statistics will reach after the COVID-19 pandemic. Undoubtedly the steps taken by our representatives are commendable but we cannot lend a blind eye to the marginalized sections of society, who will be further exposed to exploitation. Those sections of the society, who cannot meet their day’s end, send their children to school for learning as well as for getting proper food because of mid-day meals. But the World Food Programme estimates that 370 million children are not receiving proper nutrition due to school closure. School closures have impacted not only students, teachers and parents but have had far-reaching consequences on social and economic front. The shutting down of schools is also posing a threat on proper childcare, especially in cases of working parents. 

If secularism is a constitutional right, so is the right to education. With educational institutions shut and places of worship open are we not preaching inequality? Even though the social distancing norms will be followed, proper sanitization and hand washing facilities will be made, but keeping in mind the scenario in our religious places can we be sure to be safe from virus transmission? 

According to UNESCO, till date 40% of schools have reopened globally. Countries like China, Japan, Denmark, Norway and Germany have started reopening schools with new safety measures. The measures range from keeping windows open for ventilation to spacing desks six feet apart and resuming classes for students of a certain age. India should adopt safety measures in line with these countries and reopen schools to begin with formal education again. If the wheels of economy need to move and India’s economy has to rise, the role of education cannot be denied at all. 

We cannot keep schools shut and the future of the nation indoors until a vaccine is developed; we have to learn to live with the virus. The best interest of the children shall be the main priority. This is the time where we can make education more inclusive, more dynamic and more practicality-oriented rather than exam-oriented. Nothing can be more suitable than a pandemic situation to revive the education system with new colours of hope and strength. I think it’s feasible to unlock the temple of learning in Lockdown 5.0, rather than the temple of the Almighty itself.

(The author is a lawyer and an amateur writer. The views expressed are her own.)

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