'Covid is tsunami on education in developing countries'

Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee likens Covid-19 to 'tsunami' on education in developing countries

Abhijit Banerjee. Credit: AFP file photo.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a tsunami on the education system in developing countries including India, says Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee.

“In India, as many as 320 million children have been affected by school closure because of the pandemic,” said Prof Banerjee on Tuesday evening while addressing the ‘Prof. Rajni Kothari Memorial Lecture Series’ organised by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

Speaking online from the United States on ‘Every Child Counts Towards a More Democratic Education for India’, he said that though the closure of schools is driven because of the pandemic, it is surely a matter of concern.

“We still do not know when schools would re-open fully across the country,” said Prof Banerjee, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2019 along with Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer.

According to him, the government has called for a rapid shift to online learning, however, as of 2017-18, only 28 per cent of Indian households had internet. In rural areas, it was just 14 per cent. “Just getting a small smartphone will not help…you need more,” he said.

Prof Banerjee said that there is going to be automatic promotion to next grades for many children. "The levels are going to be even more heterogeneous....Don’t attempt to quickly go back to the curriculum,” he said.