India: Education union calls for stronger measures to halt potential COVID-19 catastrophe

published 3 April 2020 updated 14 April 2020

In a race against the clock to stop the spread of COVID-19 in one of the world’s most populous countries, the All India Primary Teachers Federation has urged local and national public authorities to take enhanced measures.

India is pro-actively fighting the spread of COVID-19 to save and protect lives. The government has taken significant steps, including a countrywide lockdown and introducing social distancing regulations. It has called for the implementation of health and safety measures, such as washing hands with soap and adherence to World Health Organisation directives.

Movement of migrant workers

Despite these measures, the situation on the ground may be quite grim and could result in a catastrophe, warns Ram Pal Singh, President of the All India Primary Teachers Federation (AIPTF). Singh is also a member of Education International’s Executive Board.

Since the announcement of a 21-day lockdown on 24 March, millions of migrant workers have been returning to their villages. According to the union leader, many of them have become unemployed or have been mistreated by their employers.

No information on education

While acknowledging that the lockdown is necessary, Singh explained that its impact on the economy, on people’s lives, and on education is worrisome. He added that schools and education facilities had been closed without prior planning or warning. This left students, teachers, education support personnel and families without information, guidance, and directives by public authorities to ensure the continuity of quality education.

Education in rural and remote areas impacted

In terms of moving to online platforms, Singh highlighted that most public schools are inadequately equipped for distance learning. In addition, teachers lack access to online learning platforms, teaching and learning materials, as well as support, despite their willingness and motivation to learn and ensure continuous learning for their students.

Unfortunately, students are left with too much free time on their hands or they have to navigate through textbooks themselves, with the help of their parents and friends.

“While in urban areas there are still hopes that students will continue their learning process, for students usually attending public schools in rural and remote areas, the situation is very bleak in terms of education,” Singh noted.

Financial support

AIPTF, through its state affiliates, has appealed to teachers to contribute one day’s salary to help people affected by the Coronavirus. “AIPTF members in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Tamil Nadu have already made such contributions. The union is also distributing food, masks, and soap to migrant and daily wage workers wherever possible.”

AIPTF’s appeal to public authorities

AIPTF has urged the central and state governments to:

  • Urgently ensure the safety and health of frontline health workers, provide all those engaged in COVID-19 responses with personal protective equipment, increase testing and build adequate and safe healthcare infrastructure.
  • Protect the interests and human rights of migrant workers, including educators, workers living on daily wages and other vulnerable groups; and provide food and safe shelter amidst the outbreak.
  • Ensure the safety, health, and wellbeing of students, teachers, and education support personnel; take effective measures to reduce the impact of school closures through distance learning and the use of government radio and TV in consultation with teachers and their unions.
  • Consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be a warning for governments on the need for strong, adequately funded and equipped public services, including healthcare and education systems, which are at the forefront of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.