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A Lesson from West Bengal

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the learning outcomes of millions of pupils across India, reversing years of incremental progress. But a recent visit to a school for poor children in a remote rural district revealed an unexpected beacon of hope in an experimental but promising educational model.

NEW DELHI – The world has reached a major turning point. As artificial intelligence increasingly edges out traditional labor, it becomes clear that the future belongs to countries that can adapt to the changing nature of work. But adaptability requires an education system that nurtures creativity. This is particularly true in countries like India, where the growing digital divide threatens to widen existing inequalities.

I have been on the road in India over the past month, interacting with people engaged in education and research. I happened to arrive in Delhi just as the 2022 Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), the most important source of information on schools and education in rural India, was released.

This year’s report, the first to rely on in-person interviews since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, is based on the accounts of volunteers who visited more than 17,000 schools across the country. Given the four-year gap, this report provides the first meaningful glimpse of the pandemic’s devastating effect on learning outcomes for Indian children. It also provides crucial insights into the experience of millions more pupils in other developing and emerging economies.