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Troubles in Education during the Pandemic

Education is defined as imparting or acquisition of knowledge through teaching or training. It is the powerful weapon of development and one of the strongest instruments of reducing poverty and unemployment. It makes a person eligible to earn a better living leading to the development of society at large. An educated person tends to have a unique mindset as it develops rationale thinking.

Education is recognized as an essential and fundamental human right globally as it yields important development benefits. India is regarded as home to 19% of the world’s total children, which implies that India consists of the most number of youngsters.

Constitutional Provisions
Provisions mentioning Education as a ‘fundamental right’ are enumerated in the Constitution of India. Article 21-A was inserted through the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 whereby, the State guarantees free and compulsory education of all children of the age of six to fourteen years. The eleventh fundamental duty under article 51-A along with Article 45 under the Directive Principles of State Policy also envisages provisions regarding the right to education.

Other than this, The Right of Children to free and compulsory Education Act also had come into force from 1st April 2010 which is in consequence of the legislation enumerated under Article 21-A. Therefore, it is the legal obligation of the State, to make sure that no child is deprived of free and compulsory education.

International Recognition
The right to education has global recognition. Apart from being recognized by Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is recognized as a basic human right in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and various other international conventions as well.

Judicial Pronouncements
In the landmark case of Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, the decision of the Supreme Court made the right to education a fundamental right. It was held that the right to education was an integral part of the right to life.

In the case of Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Education v. K.S. Gandhi, it was held that the right to education at the secondary stage was a fundamental right as well.

The arrival of the Pandemic
The unprecedented global health crisis came into the light imposing its adverse effects on everything going on in our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused great harm to human rights and so is, right to education adversely been affected. To safeguard the lives of the citizens of the country, the states imposed lockdown, which leads to the total shutting down of schools, colleges, and all other educational institutions. Although it was started with the closure of one month, continues with no clues of getting re-opened.

The crisis has adversely affected the lives of the youngsters who had to step into the new phase of their lives – the students in board exams, nursery school admissions, competitive exams, and entrance exams of various universities.

Impact on School Education
The method of teaching acquired by the schools stands nowhere in comparison with the online teaching system. The physical interaction between the teacher and the child is not possible in online classes. The child got exposure to the real world, meeting new people, and learning the importance of being social is no more in existence. Also, only a few private schools of high-income groups can easily adopt the online teaching methodology, which turns out to be difficult for low-income and governmental counterparts.

Impact on Universities Education
The overnight closure of universities drained out the mental state of both the administration and the students. The final year students, who were just about to grab their degrees after exams, were unable to sit in the exam halls now. Online classes were another great deal to face. The middle-aged faculty members, who used to face problems in operating simple features of smartphones, had to conduct online classes through Zoom and MS Teams applications.

Challenges faced by students
It is not less than a challenge for students of all ages to acquire education in this pandemic era. It adversely affects the mental health of students. Ones, who were all set to get admission into a new college or a new school and start a new phase of life, were locked down in their houses. Little children, who were going to meet their new teachers to learn the A B Cs, did not even come to know what school is!

Students, who had prepared for their board exams by working hard the entire year, were told that their exams are either canceled or postponed indefinitely.

Children, who were told to stay away from mobile phones, are now been scolded for not sitting in front of the screen of their mobiles and tablets for their online sessions right in the morning.

Fast and reliable technology and internet access are very difficult in certain areas. The network issue tends to interrupt at any time mostly in rural or under-developed areas. Some families also faced difficulties in providing a device with an internet connection to each of their children.

State Initiatives
The children are exposed to a situation that is very hard for them to understand. But, amid the Covid crisis, the government is bound by the legal obligation to make sure that the basic fundamental rights are safeguarded in the best ways possible.

Global organizations such as UNESCO are also backing up countries to mitigate the losses incurring due to the closure of educational institutions.

The reports of UNESCO mention that approximately, 32 crore students in India have suffered, and on the other hand, 290 million students across 22 countries.

The rationality of the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka was further examined in another landmark case of – Unnikrishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh, whereby, the right to education was given an additional meaning in the following words:
‘A citizen can call upon the state to provide educational facilities to him within the limits of his economic capacity and development, comes within the meaning of the right to education.’
Therefore, it becomes the duty of the state to take necessary action in this regard by providing all necessary arrangements for remote learning to maintain the continuity of education.
Remote learning has come up as the most reliable solution for continuing the learning process. The government has brought up various e-learning platforms to leverage the situation and offer free online and interactive classes which can easily be accessed from home.

Digital education facilitates distance learning across diverse geographies in a very appropriate manner. Therefore, a device with good internet connectivity after this revolution is the need of the hour.

Apart from all these benefits, certain adverse effects that the reports claimed also came to light. Reports issued by UNESCO claimed that half the total number of learners do not have proper access to technology. National institutions of mental health and nervo science claimed that little children were now more prone to severe neurological and eye diseases.

Keeping in view all this discouragement regarding digital education, Karnataka Government imposed a ban upon online classes up to class 5th.

On the other hand, any sort of ban imposed on online classes violates the fundamental right to education enumerated under Article 21-A of the Indian Constitution which was an integral part of the Right to life mentioned under Article 21 of the Constitution.

To bridge the gap between the good and bad effects of digital education for students from kindergarten to 5th standard, advisory guidelines were issued by the State that included a reduction in screen time for students. It was also clarified that neither the school authorities could impose compulsion on students to attend the online classes nor they should be charged extra fee.

Judicial Pronouncements
In a recent judgment of Faheema Shirin R.K. v. State of Kerala & Ors., the High Court of Kerala recognized that – ‘the right to have internet access is an integral part to right to education and right to privacy as well under the Constitution of India.

But since the fundamental rights are not absolute and are subject to reasonable restrictions as held in the landmark judgment of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala, the High Court of Kerala in Anjitha K. Jose v. State of Kerala & Ors, held that certain restriction must be imposed that must have a connection with the discipline to make sure no unnecessary usage of mobile phone is being done.

In the case of Anuj Garj v. Hostel Association of India, The Hon'ble Supreme Court extended the principles to ensure that the States must provide that the children are equipped with modern technologies to compete well in this highly dynamic and developing world to attain success.

Apart from these, various issues have been emerging regarding cancellation and postponement of examinations upon which cases are still waiting for an appropriate decision.
In Praneeth K v. University Grants Commission, whereby, the Court revised its judgment of canceling final year exams and gave states the discretion to approach the University Grants Commission (UGC) for an extension of the deadline by which, final year exams should be completed. Because, the UGC urged that examinations are a very crucial step and thus, it mandated that all final year exams be conducted amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Because UGC made it clear that awarding a degree without conducting the final year exams, is unfair and a violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Multiple cases were combined under a single hearing which included cases of 11 students.

In the latest case of Dhananjay Kulkarni vs Union of India and others, the Bombay High Court has held that mockery is being made of the education system if the examinations are canceled. Children’s future must be taken care of, it must not be spoiled, and not be kept at stake in the name of the pandemic.

Conclusion
The proliferation of Coronavirus has extremely petrifying effects on all aspects of life. It has shaken the world adversely. Education is the building block of one’s personality. It makes a person eligible for anything he or she wants to achieve. Education is fundamental for the development of society and thus, has great importance in every developing country like India.

Adequate measures must be taken to safeguard the Education System which is truly at stake currently. If the roots are loose, the tree suffers; if the youngsters are deprived of education, the entire country will have to suffer. Because, the ones who are to be educated, the country will be in their hands tomorrow.

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