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Children highlight challenges of learning in 'new normal'


Guwahati, Nov 15: From facing difficulties in accessing online education due to limited internet coverage to being more exposed to dangers of online trolling, school-goers from different parts of Assam on Sunday deliberated on the challenges thrown upon them by the 'new normal'.

They also did not fail to highlight the positives that can be derived from the current situation of online classes, particularly emphasising the ample time at hand for reading course materials as well as other books. The concerns confronting young learners in wake of the restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic were raised by students at a programme organised by UNICEF Assam and Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) to mark the launch of week-long World Children's Day celebrations in the state on Sunday. Assam Assembly Speaker Biswajit Daimary and Chief Executive Officer of GMDA Kausar Jamil Hilaly, among others, were present at the programme.

The children, hailing from different parts of the state like Majuli, Dhemaji, Guwahati and Sivasagar, highlighted that limited or no internet access and non-availability of smartphones or computers have posed a major challenge for the students, especially in rural areas or from economically weaker sections, to pursue their education during the current situation.

They further said the vulnerability of their contemporaries of falling victim to internet pornography or trolling due to overexposure to the internet in the name of studying through the online mode has also increased manifold. Proper basic infrastructure, clean toilets and access to drinking water in schools were among other issues flagged by the students. The young learners also pointed to some of the advantages of learning from home, with most stating that the extra time they now have at hand has helped them go through their books in more detail.

The spare time has also enabled them to read books of diverse interests, besides those of the curriculum. Problems of ill health and fatigue faced by many students while attending regular physical classes have also declined, they added.

Experiences of learning loss and other issues due to the closure of schools of children of 10 districts that have been compiled in the form of a coffee table book Safer Together: A compilation of stories by Young Reporters' was presented to Speaker Daimary on the occasion.

The Young Reporters Programme, under which the compilation was made, is being implemented in 10 districts by Krishna Kanta Handiqui State Open University (KKHSOU) and Sadaou Asom Moina Parijat, with technical support from UNICEF Assam.

Under the initiative, about 300 children have been trained through workshops to use several communication tools including artwork, photography, comics, and report writing. Children from the NINEISMINE campaign under the Wada Na Todo Abhiyan' (don't break the promise initiative) convened by the NGO PratYek, also presented a Charter of Demands on their expectations from schools in the new normal.

NINEISMINE network provides children with the opportunity to advocate for their rights with decision-makers, and it has reached and sensitised about 500 children from Assam, through a series of online workshops, and came up with a Charter of Demands on Learning in the new normal. Speaking on the occasion, Madhulika Jonathan, Chief of Field Office, UNICEF Assam, said returning enrolment rates in schools to pre-COVID ones is a priority for UNICEF.

Schools do not just provide instruction for children; they play a critical role in child welfare and development. Recovering months of learning loss will be challenging for children and teachers, she added.

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