scorecardThe educational gap between poorer and richer households is growing in India and much of Asia, thanks to climate change
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The educational gap between poorer and richer households is growing in India and much of Asia, thanks to climate change

The educational gap between poorer and richer households is growing in India and much of Asia, thanks to climate change
SustainabilitySustainability2 min read
As temperatures reached a blazing 47°C in May this year, the Delhi government was forced to declare an early closure of schools to protect vulnerable students from the deadly heatwaves. A similar situation unfolded in many northern states, with early summer vacations announced in Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan this year.

Most educational institutes heeded this notice and ceased their functioning. This was a wise choice, considering that children’s bodies aren’t as effective at regulating their temperatures, making them reliant on their parents to protect them from overheating. However, some private schools remained open in Delhi, prompting the state to issue a second notice to shut down for vacations immediately.

Many of these private institutes were equipped with heat-abating technologies such as air conditioners in their schools and buses, fans, and generators. This was used by the management to justify defying the initial government orders, especially considering many of these schools had exams going on at the time.

The COVID-19 lockdowns had already shone a fresh light on the harmful impacts of interrupted schooling on young schoolchildren. These “learning losses” can impede how much a student learns in a year, an effect that is only more profound among disadvantaged classes. Studies have shown that this can worsen the existing inequalities between students from different socio-economic backgrounds.

While life has returned to near normal since the coronavirus pandemic, climate change-exacerbated “natural” disasters have begun to have the same effect by regularly hindering schooling for children in India and other vulnerable countries.
Cut school days, move to remote learning
For instance, after the heat index — a more realistic indicator of the temperatures after taking humidity into account — crossed a concerning 42°C for two months, school days were either suspended or reportedly cut by two hours in the Philippines. Similar closures were also observed in Bangladesh and many other heat-riddled Asian countries this year. UN estimates suggest that extreme weather may be affecting hundreds of millions of children in the Asia-Pacific region.

"Over the past 20 years, schools were closed as a result of at least 75% of the extreme weather events impacting 5 million people or more in low- and middle-income countries," explains a recent UNESCO report.

According to the report, high temperatures are leading to poorer grades and worsened performance in students’ test results. Further, as poorer families face the brunt of climate change’s impacts, it will inevitably affect their household incomes, impairing their ability to afford schooling in the first place.

While some schools have tried to move schooling online, this mode also suffers from significant problems, many of which remain class-centric. Considering that conditions at home may be no better than at schools, remote learning can potentially disadvantage children from low-income households that have no ready access to computers or the internet. Further, many teachers also lament that online learning takes away from the crucial one-on-one experience required at such an important age.

Thus, as climate change increasingly shortens the number of days educational institutes remain open, it is likely to impact educational outcomes for all. However, there is a good chance only richer students will enjoy access to better quality education, while poorer students will suffer. The resultant learning loss will only continue to accumulate, impacting the marginalised sections the hardest.

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