Jharkhand20 Study208
Dec 27, 2022

What Did the Pandemic Teach Us About Education & Flourishing Among India's Students?

Approaches to schooling in India changed during lockdown. TWCF grantee Prashant Narang is studying how this may impact the future of education in the country's poorest communities, for better or worse.

By Templeton Staff with Prashant Narang and Jayana Bedi

With funding from the Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF), Prashant Narang at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) in New Delhi is looking at the impacts of pandemic-modified teaching-learning methods for low-income students in India. For this Grantee Spotlight, we asked Prashant Narang, the Principal Investigator of the project, and researcher Jayana Bedi, to share a little about their work in a brief Q+A session.

What is your main focus of study and how did you become interested in the area of research related to your TWCF-funded project?

Prashant Narang: Catering to about 250 million children, India has the second-largest schooling system in the world. While government and private schools are key players in the K-12 market, a parallel system of informal private tuitions also attempts to fill in learning gaps left by the schooling system. Recently, edu-tech companies, that are not formal schools, have also entered the market to supplement school learning. 

Although schools made an effort to reach children through the use of online media (such as WhatsApp and Zoom), children from low-income communities were hardest hit by school closures (Brookings 2021). Poor access to resources including stable internet connection, smartphones, and laptops has hampered the learning process of many students. For some, learning came to a halt. Others came to rely heavily on radio, TV, online videos, private tuitions, and studying at home.

Under this project, CCS studied the following three aspects of K-12 education in low-income communities: 

  • What were the different services providers in the K-12 market and how did they pivot their engagement with children during the pandemic?
  • How did parents perceive these services availed by their children? 
  • How well did children learn using these new tools of learning?  

Centre for Civil Society has long advocated the importance of parental choice and highlighted the role of non-state actors in K-12 education. We considered it important to find out how entrepreneurs innovated and catered to children from low-income families during the lockdown period. This is crucial as some of these children may not have access to steady power supply, internet, and smartphones. We wished to document market solutions including those provided by informal providers that contribute to human flourishing in low-income settings. These informal enterprises such as private home tuitions and coaching centers have been so far viewed as illegitimate or undesirable providers in the Indian education market. 

Further, thus far, the narrative on learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has been dominated by what schools claim they have been able to produce for children. We wanted to understand how parents perceive these services and how far these methods were able to cover the gap in learning for children.

Tell us about how the approach to teaching and learning in India has had to be modified during the pandemic, and what that has meant for children, parents, and educators.

Jayana Bedi: With the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, all service providers, particularly schools, had to change their approach to teaching-learning. 

Many school owners started online classes and conducted operations and classes on Google Meet, WhatsApp and other platforms. Schools also tried to involve parents. They communicated with parents to keep track of progress, guiding them on how to support their children. Some of these media require a steady power supply, working internet connections, and smartphone ownership to which many low-income families may not have access. Teachers expressed the struggles of maintaining an emotional connection with children using online platforms. It was difficult to conduct meaningful assessments of learning.

Several parents switched to either learning at home or adopted homeschooling.  As per ASER (2020), about 75% of children get some help at home; roughly 40% of children attend paid tuition classes. The more educated the parents, the more help their children receive. ASER, interestingly, found that even if no materials were received, slightly more than a third of all children did some learning activity at home. There was also an increase in uptake for edtech.

Several state education Boards reduced or planned to reduce the syllabus.  For instance, Uttar Pradesh decided to reduce the syllabus of the state Secondary Education Board by 30% and divide the syllabus into three parts (Seth 2020).

How do you envision your research translating into practical tools people might use in their everyday lives and community?

Prashant Narang: Our research will reflect the impact that free markets and entrepreneurship had on human flourishing of the poorest sections of India in one of the most difficult times of recent history. 

This research will also be critical inputs for designing future-ready education policy and practices that would well determine human flourishing of future generations. 

What is an insight or learning you found that might affect future study in your area of interest?

Prashant Narang: One key insight from our study was the heavy reliance on and trust in paid private tuitions across the board. Regardless of whether children go to private or public schools, there is an increase in uptake of private tuitions. Some parents mentioned that private tuitions help provide the much-needed individual attention to their children.

Second, we observed that if money is not a constraint, most parents would prefer to send their children to private schools. Some studies argue that parents lack sufficient information on the quality of education imparted in private schools. To test this hypothesis, we wish to conduct a survey of education practitioners (government, private, and tuition teachers) who have the relevant knowledge to find out more about the choices they make for their children. 

What is a source of inspiration in your studies?

Prashant Narang: A tale of two Gandhis!

Two Gandhis, across different epochs, inspired us with their profound and refreshing take on K-12 education.

Per Mahatma Gandhi, the British uprooted India’s "beautiful tree" of education that served the poor and wealthy alike by insisting that schools have "so much paraphernalia, building, and so forth..." This, Gandhi suggested, left India "more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago." He insisted that India "revive the old village schoolmaster and dot every village with a school both for boys and girls."

Tooley’s interpretation makes it clear that the schools Gandhi was supporting years back can be likened to today’s budget private schools. 75 years on, the issues and challenges faced by these schools remain the same. Rules and regulations continue to eat away at the root of this beautiful tree by adding onerous requirements and making its survival difficult.

Similarly, Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, in her work ‘The Private Schooling Phenomenon’ draws attention to the crucial role played by private schools in educating India’s children. Nearly 50% of all children are enrolled in schools run by non-state actors. From 2010 to 2014, enrolment in private schools rose by 16 million. While Mahatma Gandhi relied on strong rhetoric to build a case for private schooling, Geeta Gandhi Kingdom emphasized the importance of evidence.

Both Gandhi, although unrelated, are also strong proponents of choice. Mahatma Gandhi, is famously quoted for saying "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."

Taking cue from the Gandhis, we built our research study to gather evidence on the non-state actors in K-12 education that parents from low-income communities relied on during COVID-19. 

Prashant Narang is Senior Fellow, Research and Training Programs at Centre for Civil Society. At CCS, he represents private schools in key legal cases and researches on RTE and other state K-12 laws. Having taught law at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, he has a keen interest in the quality assessment of laws, law and economics and the rule of law.

Jayana Bedi is a Senior Associate, Research and Training Programs at Centre for Civil Society. She pursued her bachelor's in Sociology from Miranda House, Delhi University. Jayana has been working on the issue of quality of laws and vendor livelihoods for the past three years. She has co-authored papers on the state of law-making in India and the elements of a good law.