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The Grim Reality of this Pandemic’s Impact on Early Childhood Development

With India deep in the second wave of the pandemic, it’s a fact that these uncertain times are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Systemically vaccinating a population as mammoth as ours while fire-fighting this pandemic and its socio-economic consequences is undeniably going to continually suspend normative life. And so when thinking about our young children, we have to ask; How has this anomalous school closure affected our young ones so far, how will it continue to affect them, and what can we do about it? The pandemic has also been an obstruction to regular methods of data collection, which means that most have resorted to hypothesizing the impact based on theory, experience, and expertise. However, the ASER Centre did manage to collect some on ground data around enrolment and access which shed light on the real impacts of the past year. According to the report, enrolment dropped sharply especially amongst young children across genders because many young children have not yet secured admission in any school due to the pandemic. It is worth considering the possibility that these children may have a lower percentage that enroll even eventually due to the precedent set in their young age, which may leave them out of the education sector altogether. The report also detailed the sharp increase of smartphone penetration in households, from 36.5% (2018) to 61.8% (2020) which paves the way for technological interventions to evolve the way we look at education and childcare. However, it’s very important to remember that educational learning outcomes and school readiness skills in younger children is only one domain of child development, and school closures will have further reaching impacts. In last week’s blog I talked about how key, early years are to brain development. Young brains build themselves based on experiences and relationships in their early years. When we consider the impact of school closures it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that the impact differs based on socio-economic status. Young children from low income communities are dependent on their school and childcare environments to provide them with the right nurturing experiences for their cognitive development. School closures have sharply limited exposure of young brains to varied engaging and stimulating experiences which is definitely going to have a long term detrimental impact on the lives of children, though these impacts may be unobservable for now.


The developmental domain that I personally am most concerned about is socio-emotional development. Peer interactions for young children have reduced drastically for the past one year, and will likely continue to remain at suboptimal levels for at least the next few months. Peer interactions usually provide space for young children to exercise their emotional regulation. Without this space, without learning through play, young children will develop their socio-emotional skills differently, and we don’t yet know that it will be a good change. I realise this paints a grim picture, but where there’s risk, there’s scope to innovate a sustainable solution, and in this case, it is parents and caregivers. So what can parents do, to protect against the potential detriments of school closures? If I had to sum it up, the biggest thing parents have to do is engage. Just engage with young children as much as possible. I don’t want to sound idealistic, since this blog mainly refers to low-income communities I must recognize the additional economic and social security burden that this pandemic has placed on parents. I realise that the pandemic is a major stressor for parents as individuals as well, but young children need this engagement. Like I mentioned earlier, digital tools have penetrated society to a larger extent than ever before, paving the way for EdTechs to create impact for those who need it. While there’s been an indisputable increase in the quantity of EdTech resources in the past year, we have to evaluate what populations the majority serve. The majority of recent EdTech innovations address the needs of urban middle-, and high-income groups which do not require that much assistance to begin with. I say so because high-income groups have access to resourceful schools and their children are rarely first or second generation learners. The masses of our country are made up of first or second generation learners with little to no support. Additionally, there is very little publicly available data around the efficacy of these interventions. There might be data around 3-month user retention but user retention tells us nothing about the impact or lack thereof on children. In upcoming weeks, this blog will discuss the reach of digital interventions across income groups, parental engagement in low-income communities, and using EdTech at home. ASER Center Report: Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2020 Wave 1


About the author: Vatsala M. Sharma (Ed. M, Human Development & Psychology) is a Content & Research Associate at Top Parent. She graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2020 and has previously worked with organizations like Teach For India.

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