COVID-19 LOCKDOWN: In Uncertain Times, Data Matters

With schools across India closing their doors indefinitely in March 2020, millions of children are bearing the brunt of an unprecedented pause in their education. The lives of children from migrant families are heavily altered and it will be a long time before they go back to school. AIF’s Learning, Evaluation, and Impact (LEI) team used the lockdown period to study its implications on families of students from the Digital Equalizer (DE) program.

The survey was conducted with 4403 parents from low-income households across 12 states in India. In this first-of-a-kind study, Anika Badyal Basu, LEI Director, writes about the exciting experiment to bring data that could assist in deriving positive changes for children that shape the future of their education. Data has the power to fuel decision-making, especially in situations where decisions need to be taken to minimize learning loss in children. In uncertain times, data matters!

COVID-19 pandemic led the government to declare an unprecedented lockdown across India in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. The country-wide lockdown was initiated on March 25, 2020 and has been extended multiple times since. 

The strict lockdown has been successful in restricting movement of the general population. However, in absence of any fieldwork possible, most data available in the market is limited to online surveys and thus focuses on the educated population with internet access. Further, this available data is invariably focused on people as consumers and highlights the changes in their spending, presumably for the benefit of brands. Data on the mostly uneducated, lower economic strata is not readily available. Thus, an urgent need was felt in the development sector for a way to understand how this segment is dealing with the current situation and associated challenges, especially to plan evidence-based interventions in the country post-lockdown. 

Leveraging American India Foundation’s (AIF) existing linkages with government schools across the country through its Digital Equalizer (DE) program, AIF’s LEI team designed a quantitative telephonic survey with parents across 12 states. Through this, the parents shared their knowledge, attitudes and coping strategies related to the COVID- 19 situation and lockdown, along with their willingness and available means to make digital learning accessible for children. This data, which has informed AIF’s education strategy in the post-lockdown world, would be an essential guide for education interventions in the country given that the schools may have to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

A total sample of 4,403 parents[1] of government school students was covered from across 12 states and 35 districts associated with AIF. Phone numbers of parents were obtained from teachers and other parents included in the survey following snowball sampling methodology. About 120 field level associates were trained during the lockdown via Google Hangouts. This included sessions on how each question should be asked and coded as well as practice interviews. Data collection was completed in a span of 11 days (April 28- May 8, 2020) through use of SurveyCTO mobile application and was linked to an analytical dashboard on RebusCloud. 

Key OVERALL findings 

  • Around half of the households had two children, the father worked as a daily wage labourer while the mother was a homemaker. 
  • Most of the parents who had been working had not been paid during the lockdown (85%).
  • Almost all of the parents were aware of the government- imposed lockdown (99%)
  • Around 9 among every 10 parents agreed with the government’s decision to put the country under lockdown (90%) and felt they have all the information required on COVID-19 (89%).
  • Most of them (91%) felt that they are taking all the required precautions. When asked about ways of prevention of COVID-19 infection, the top three were:
    • Staying indoors (90%)
    • Wearing masks (82%)
    • Staying away from gatherings (71%)

Awareness about washing hands with soap for 20 seconds was comparatively low (46%), followed by maintaining social distancing of 1-2 metres (55%).

Available means for child’s education during lockdown

  • Most of the households covered reported having a TV (82%); three-fourths have smart phone (75%) and about two-thirds have internet (65%). 

  • ‘Use of mobile phone for learning of children’ emerged as the most preferred means of education while the schools remain closed due to COVID-19. This was reported by 9 in every 10 parents interviewed.
  • Seven in 10 parents expressed willingness to join WhatsApp groups with teachers and classmates. Similar proportion felt digital classes on TV would be helpful. 
  • Parents expressed that they could spare their devices for the child’s education for an average of 2 hours per day. There was state-wise variation that emerged in this, presented in the graph below. While an average parent in Orissa was keen on letting their child use their device for about 90 minutes a day, their counterparts in Haryana expressed around 3 hours a day is acceptable to them. 

Support received from the government during lockdown

  • Nearly two-thirds of the parents (63%) reported to have received support from the government. When further asked about what this support was, almost all of these parents reported having received dry ration (96%)
  • It can further be seen from the graphs below that in states where more respondents (daily wage labourers and those working in the private sector) reported getting support from the government (Telengana, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc), relatively lower proportion was worried about work post lockdown. 

Conclusion

Findings from the study clearly highlight the buy-in of parents with access to devices for digital learning of their wards given the currently ongoing closure of schools. This digital learning however would have to be in the form of short bursts of under two hours per day in most states given that these devices are shared. The survey also underscores the need for teachers to adopt a mixed approach of including phones (WhatsApp groups, video/ audio calls), TV (educational programs) and physical supply of reading material/ assignments (especially for those who may not have access to devices).  Further, a need for COVID-19 related awareness campaign has also emerged, in which the importance of handwashing for 20 seconds and social distancing which were reported the least can be taken up. Going forward, it would be interesting to see how the situation evolves with parents going back to work.  Flexibility may have to be given to the students to access the learning material as per the device’s availability at home, especially if it is through mobile phones.  

As the situation on the ground continues to evolve at a fast pace, it would be important for the development sector to keep our ear to the ground through regular surveys. This would enable us to formulate data-driven strategies, in absence of which we all might just be acting on conjectures. 

[1] The survey was conducted with parents who had access to any kind of phone- landline or mobile, smart phone or feature/ button phone)

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2 thoughts on “COVID-19 LOCKDOWN: In Uncertain Times, Data Matters

  1. This is indeed a great exercise. Thank you for sharing interesting pointers (output) with all of us.
    It helps in comparing the mindset, support, and attainment of parents towards this challenging situation of Covid-19. Of course, Positive thing is, on average, 65% of smartphone users who have access are ready to share the phone for a minimum of 3-4 hours for students’ studies.

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