It is unclear how many children have dropped out of education in the last two years but in many poor families there has been increasing pressure to earn money due to the historic levels of unemployment the pandemic has brought.
Around one in five secondary school children have dropped out, according to estimates by the Unified District Information System for Education, an Indian government database.
In Delhi alone two million children are missing from school, according to the All India Parents Association.
These children face a lifetime of poorly paid, daily wage jobs such as labouring on a construction site or running a street stall, instead of the skilled professional career they might have been able to get if they had finished their education.
“These dropouts will not be skilled and ready for the job market. We already do not have enough jobs for unskilled workers, and low income families are already going through income distress due to the Covid-19 induced economic crash,” said Yamini Aiyar, president of the Center for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
“Even if just 10 per cent of students drop out, we could see social schisms, the gap between the haves and the have nots in India has been exposed tremendously during Covid-19. If the have nots don’t get educated then it will get deeper,” said Gayatri RP, the CEO of the 321 Foundation, an education NGO in Mumbai.
The children of India’s wealthiest families have been able to access online and private tuition and are still expected to claim places at prestigious universities in India or abroad and dominate the job market.
But the economic crunch means fewer students from India’s middle classes are likely to pursue higher education and this is likely to exacerbate existing skills shortages in some specialised fields, like IT and engineering.
“As the Indian economy recovers we will need skilled workers. We already had widely publicised skills shortages before Covid-19 and I think this is going to be exacerbated by the learning loss,” said Ms Aiyar.