Pandemic’s Disquieting Silences: Children and Education in Inequitable Societies | Saima Saeed

by Critical Asia

by Saima Saeed, Dec. 2021】

Disruptive socio-bio-political transformations that plunge the world into an avalanche of disease, death and isolation, of the scale imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic are few and far between in history. What makes the present pandemic particularly distinct from any similar events in the past, such as the Spanish flu, is the intensity of its impact on structurally unequal societies, like India. The deeply rooted inequities in income, access to education, primary healthcare and more importantly, to technology, stand exposed since March 2020 like never before. The worst victims of this tango between crony capitalism and neoliberal state policies are undoubtedly the poor and the marginalised segments of society, overwhelmingly constituted by women and children along differentials of class, caste, gender and religion.

That children have been ignored and the silent victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, is an honest admission that has to be made beyond the private, intimate sphere of the family and to a collective ownership of the crisis in the formal arena of the state and institutionalised policies, that have corroborated to produce this catastrophe of not just education but of knowledge. A true estimation of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in India has to begin by first assessing the sheer size of the affected population. A whopping 41% of India’s 1.2 billion population is constituted by children and young people below 18 years of age[1]. The picture becomes grimmer if we raise the age bar to 25 years which makes up to almost half the population of the country. Scant attention is paid to how the turn to the ‘online’ or the ‘hybrid’ mode is much more than a ‘digital switch’. It involves an intricate and complex set of social, economic, psychological and physiological shifts that can wrench the young minds out of biological homeostasis disrupting their bodies’ ability to maintain an optimal stability or balance necessary for their overall wellbeing. The long term consequences of these changed conditions of teaching-learning have resulted in a stress that psychologists would consider beyond the coping capacities of young children and therefore tending to result in widespread anxiety, fear and even rejection of the online mode of learning. What would this amount to? An entire generation of children masqueradingas digital nomads with multiple online personae but no real identity. For the university students, lack of access to laboratories, libraries, hostels and university cafés has meant not just a withdrawal into the closed vicissitudes of the home but a retraction from spaces that were critical to the development of a rational, discursive, questioning ‘public sphere’, with universities as sites of its incubation in plausibly every modern nation-state. 

Did the world need a pandemic as exhausting as COVID-19 to appreciate the full scale of the digital divide that unchecked globalisation has adumbrated? UNICEF’s warning that 31 per cent of schoolchildren worldwide totaling to 463 million ‘cannot be reached by the broadcast  and Internet-based remote learning policies, either due to the lack of necessary technological assets at home, or because they were not targeted by the adopted policies’ is a foregone conclusion that did not need the world’s greatest data scientists and statisticians[2]. Such warnings become agonizing in the context of South Asia, when seen in the light of recent International Labour Organization (ILO) surveys from seven South Asian countries, including India, which estimates 30 million children in employment, 17 million in child labour and 50 million children out of school in the region[3]. No food and no education is a recipe for a disaster of epic proportions. So has the pandemic pushed us back by almost a century?

I would like to conclude by recalling the admonition that Deleuze held out in a short essay published in 1992, summing up the shift from Foucault’s ‘disciplinary societies’ to ‘societies of control’: Man in his new avatar of ‘coded figures—deformable and transformable’ (1992: 6) will witness the most telling consequences for the Third World in a crushing form of capitalism that produces extreme poverty for three quarters of humanity (Deleuze 1992: 6)[4].

Saima Saeed, Jamia Millia Islamia, India


[1] See the Census data on the official website of the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Available at:
Accessed Jan 14, 2022

[2] See UNICEF Website
Accessed on January 15, 2022


[4] Deleuze,  Gilles (1992) ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’,  October, Vol. 59. pp. 3-7.

You may also like

Leave a Comment