Help! Our children are forgetting how to read the alphabet Schools shut, no online access, rural children have forgotten what they had once learnt

03, Dec 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Many schools have been shut for so long due to the Covid-19 pandemic, most children in rural India, who do not have access to online classes have almost forgotten whatever little they had once learnt. One can see the impact, as these children seem to have no connection with books, they focus that they and their families once had on education… is now lost.

Children who belong to slightly better off families spend their day watching TV or playing games on the smartphone. Their daily routines seem to have changed and so has their behavior. Parents have expressed concerns over their children’s future but do not really know how to change the current situation.

CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program is a unique initiative aiming to give voice and agency to the young, from among the communities with whom we work closely. These presently include migrant workers, Dalits, Adivasis and forest workers. CJP Fellows report on issues closest to their hearts and home, and are making impactful change every day. We hope to expand this to include far reaching ethnicities, diverse genders, Muslim artisans, sanitation workers and manual scavengers. Our raison d’etre is to dot India’s vast landscape with the committed human rights workers who carry in their hearts Constitutional values, to transform India into what our nation’s founders dreamt it to be. Please Donate Now to increase the band of CJP Grassroot Fellows.

There is no opportunity for the children to go out of the house, and even though some recreation centers reopened for a few days in December 2020, they were closed again in mid-February when the second Covid wave rose. The children’s minds seem to be deprived of the real-world stimulation, instead they feed on Facebook-YouTube all day. This is leading to changing behaviour patterns and as a result, teachers and parents now have to pay special attention to young children.

Students from urban areas are mostly taken in with mobile games and TV, but can still attend their private schools online. But those who live in villages are not able to attend those classes as they lack online connectivity and smart devices. Village-boys and girls are not addicted to mobile games, instead they play in open grounds. Nature is their dearest friend now.

Recently I came across one such group of village children enjoying a day amidst nature in the Paikar area of Birbhum district. The children were having a leisurely picnic together. They had collected rice from home and then cooked it in the open, sat under a tree, ate and had fun. I was surprised at how young these kids were. A city child at that age would not be able to cook anything!

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The sight of this feast called Charuibhati or ‘a sparrow’s feast’ in the rural areas was bitter sweet. They should be attending school, but in their deprivation, they still found joy. Charuibhati feast was also a way of learning life stills, and the importance of community, nature, and sharing. Maybe the city kids should be allowed to try it one day, it is a part of rural Bengal’s heritage and it is worth remembering even in urban settings.

I met Aziza Khatun who told me that she and her friends, study in the village school but now everything is closed due to lockdown so they can’t go to school. “Please request the government to re-open our school,” she asked me, pleading, “We want to go to school. If we continue like this, we will forget what we have learnt so far!”

I hope the government is listening and can help hundreds of children like Aziza Khatun to safely go to school.

This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people.

Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh

Ripon Sheikh

This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.


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