Written by Mridul Anand

As our country went into a lockdown due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, it was extremely uncertain as to how things would turn out. With the number of new COVID-19 cases making a new high every morning, on 24th March, 2020 the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, completely restricting all public gatherings, offices, travel and educational institutes.

It has been 10 months since then, and while the restrictions on travel, offices, gatherings and businesses are being eased in a phased manner, the schools and colleges still remain closed in the majority of the states for regular classroom interactive teaching.

The top tier private educational institutes were the first to adapt to these changes due to the availability of adequate resources and swift administrations. Most students from urban settings were able to adopt and get accustomed to the new normal of online classes, but a large portion of students who lived in rural areas did not have the appropriate facilities like smartphones/laptops or a stable internet connection to attend online classes.

This was a huge obstacle to overcome since several families from rural India were dependent on daily wage jobs and the demand for daily wagers had significantly taken a blow due to the imposed lockdown. Several families could not afford to buy new smartphones, laptops or even recharge internet packs, especially when their income was significantly affected. Due to the financial pressure on households, the number of children being enrolled in government schools from private schools increased by 1.5% since 2018[1].

According to the 15th Annual Status of Education Report 2020, around 56% of the households with children enrolled in government schools had smartphones while 76% of households with Children in private schools had smartphones. Access to study materials too needs attention as only 33.5% of government school going children received materials whereas 40.6% children received materials in private schools. In certain states like Rajasthan, UP, Bihar the number was even lower than 25%[2].

The percentage of children not enrolled in school saw an increase from 4% across all age groups in 2018 to 5.5% in 2020, the spike in the number of children not enrolled in a school across the 6-10 age group is significant from 1.8% in 2018 to 5.3% in 2020.

The financial burden on the families along with the closing of schools may have pushed more students towards child labour and dropping out of school completely. Although the complete effect of this would only be observed once schools reopen, this is an alarming situation that may have  undone several efforts that were made to promote education in rural India. The Indian government has focused on economic rehabilitation due to the global pandemic but the education sector has remained absent from these efforts including the ₹20-lakh-crore stimulus package announced.

This year dropout rates are likely to be more severe for girls who are often left out of household resource allocation decisions[3].Girls may also be forced for additional household responsibilities as parents increase their own labour hours to cope with the financial burden. Similarly, the economic shocks may have a greater impact on children from marginalised communities that already experience higher dropout rates [4].Dropping out, in turn, may lead to increases in child marriages, domestic violence, early pregnancies and a plethora of other socio-development issues[5] .

The ASER 2020 survey also recorded an increase in smartphone ownership across rural households from 37% in 2018 to 62% in 2020. It was observed that WhatsApp was the preferred medium of sending study materials and activities with 74.2% of students from rural India reported sending or receiving some material via WhatsApp. A survey by Azim Premji foundation[6] showed that while 60% of the children were able to access online education, in 80% of the cases, teachers spent less than an hour per day per grade on online classes.

Another grave consequence of the lockdown was the temporary suspension of mid-day meals programmes. The mid-day meal Programme (MDM) in India is the largest school feeding programme in the world, it fed about 144 million school children with approximately 80% coverage across primary school[7]. This programme not only allowed the school children access to food meeting the minimum calorie and protein nourishment but also observed to improve enrollment, attendance, retention and learning outcomes of the students[8] [9] [10]. The stoppage of school feeding programs is thus likely to worsen food insecurity, especially for those who are already under-nourished, especially girls who eat last and eat less at home, compared to boys and men[11].

A school provides an environment conducive to learning and is essential for personal and interpersonal development. Schooling and education are important to mould the younger generation of today into skilled, responsible and intelligent young adults, to promote development and to improve our society.  The reopening of schools is essential since online classes fail to replace the engagement and interaction provided by live classroom teaching.

Despite the plethora of obstacles 2020 has thrown at us, we have found ways to overcome and adapt to all of them in our own unique ways.

Although the quality of education in rural parts of India this past year has not been satisfactory owing to the unavailability of steady internet and smartphones, the future seems steady and hopeful. With the launch of the vaccination drive on 16th January, 2021 and news of schools opening for pre-board exams and practicals in certain states it seems soon enough educational institutes will also gradually reopen bringing about an end to this long hiatus. The scepticism of parents towards sending their children to school also needs to be considered, addressed and strict standard operating procedures need to be devised to make the reopening successful. It is essential that the safety of children going to school is ensured by following the standard operating procedures set by the central government diligently at each step to prevent further surge of cases, beginning the long awaited journey towards recovery from this devastating global pandemic.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions put forth in the blog are of the authors alone. Raindrops Foundation does not endorse any statements or claims expressed in the article.


[1] Annual Status of Education Report. (2018). ASER 2018 – ASER Centre.

[2] Annual Status of Education Report Wave 1. (2020). ASER 2020 – ASER Centre.

[3] Prakash, R., Beattie, T., Javalkar, P., Bhattacharjee, P., Ramanaik, S., Thalinja, R., Murthy, S., Davey, C., Blanchard, J., Watts, C., Collumbien, M., Moses, S., Heise, L., & Isac, S. (2017). Correlates of school dropout and absenteeism among adolescent girls from marginalized community in North Karnataka, South India. Journal of Adolescence, 61, 64–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/ j.adolescence.2017.09.007.

[4] NUEPA. (2016). School education in India: Flash Statistics. New Delhi. http://www.dise.in/Downloads/Publications/Documents/U-DISESchoolEducationInIndia-2015-16.pdf.

[5] Birchall, Jenny. (2018). “Early Marriage, Pregnancy and Girl Child School Dropout | Resource Centre.” https://resourcecentre. savethechildren.net/library/early-marriage-pregnancy-and-girlchild-school-dropout.

[6] Myths of Online Education, Azim Premji University. https://azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in/SitePages/pdf/Myths_of_online_education.pdf

[7] Chowdhury, S. R. (2019). The correlation between midday meals and learning outcomes | India Development Review.

[8] Afridi, F. (2011). The impact of school meals on school participation: Evidence from rural India. Journal of Development Studies, 47(11), 1636–1656

[9] Sarma, K. R., Rao, D. H., Rao, K. M., Galreddy, C., Kumar, S., Rao, V. V., & Rao, N. P. (1995). Impact of midday meal program on educational and nutritional status of school-going children in Andhra Pradesh, India. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 8(1), 48–52.

[10] Aurino, E., Fledderjohann, J., & Vellakkal, S. (2019). Inequalities in adolescent learning: Does the timing and persistence of food insecurity at home matter? Economics of Education Review, 70, 94–108

[11] Alvi, M., Gupta, M. Learning in times of lockdown: how Covid-19 is affecting education and food security in India. Food Sec. 12, 793–796 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-020-01065-4