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Friday, August 14, 2020

Ground report contradicts Punjab’s ‘Ghar Baithe Sikhya’ success story, students say ‘not prepared’ for online exams

While the Punjab school education department has been raving about its ‘Ghar Baithe Sikhya’ programme, the experiences of the students indicate otherwise.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana | Updated: July 13, 2020 1:11:32 am
The lessons are being imparted via Zoom, WhatsApp, television channels, and radio among other mediums. (Representational)

Jashanpeet Kaur (17), a Humanities student in Class XII of the Government Senior Secondary School in Ludhiana’s Manupur village, has no qualms admitting that she is not at all prepared for ‘online assessment tests’ that start Monday.

“My mother works at a cloth shop and it is more important for her to carry the phone daily. My father is a watchman and he doesn’t have a smartphone. I can’t tell my mother, who goes out to work, to leave her phone at home for me,” says Jashanpreet. “I try to complete pending work on Sunday but it is just piling up. Video lectures are too long and consume a lot of data. I am hardly prepared for online tests. For how long can we depend on guides? They can’t replace a teacher in a classroom, nor can videos. We know that many students will cheat and write answers by copying in online tests but what is the use? We are hardly learning anything online,” she says.

At the home of Akwinder Kaur (17) — who is also a Class XII student at the Government Senior Secondary School in Manupur — in Goh village, three siblings are fighting over one smartphone. “My sister is a teacher so she has to take classes, and my brother is in Class IX. My father is a labourer and we can’t afford to buy another smartphone. Still somehow, he gets data recharged so that we can watch lectures online. A video lecture cannot replace a teacher. Syllabus is nowhere near completion and I am not prepared for online tests but will have to give them,” she says.

Both Akwinder and Jashanpreet scored more than 80 per cent marks in class XI despite financial trouble at home, but the constant battle with ‘online education’ has left them worried and despondent. “I just feel like running to my classroom where our teachers would answer our doubts every minute. I can’t take this more. My head and eyes hurt watching online lectures and when data finishes in midway, I only curse my luck,” says Akwinder, crying.

While the Punjab school education department has been raving about its ‘Ghar Baithe Sikhya’ programme and lessons being imparted via Zoom, WhatsApp, television channels and radio among other mediums, the experiences of these students indicate otherwise.

In this teacher’s class, just 4 of 30 have regular access to smartphone

A survey conducted by a teacher from the Manupur school revealed that of 30 students of his class (Std XII), just four were found to have regular internet connectivity and access to a smartphone. Seven students had smartphones but had temporary access and faced issues such as inability to afford data recharge, network issues etc.
Six of the teacher’s students didn’t have access to phones due to family issues (fight among siblings due to one phone, only parents having phone which they carry during work, only one parent having phone etc.)
Five students had no mobile phone connection, three didn’t have smartphones, one student had dropped out due to financial issues during lockdown.

Gurpreet Singh, the teacher who conducted the survey, said, “I tried to hold Zoom classes for general Punjabi and elective Punjabi subjects in May, but out of 30 students in my elective Punjabi class, only 3-4 could attend them. I decided to conduct a survey and find out what are the problems being faced by my students. Of 30 students in my class, only four could regularly access smartphone and internet without other hassles. Seven others had irregular access to phone while six others could not access it due to family issues. Thirteen had no phone or internet at all.”

From Monday, the education department is all set to conduct ‘Bi-monthly student base assessment tests’ online for classes VI to XII, under which question papers will be sent to students by teachers via phone and students have to write answers and send answer sheets back to them. Each subject paper will be of 20 marks, as per the orders from the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT). But according to teachers, the exercise will be more of an eyewash as students are ‘least prepared’ due to irregularities in online classes and most will also resort to cheating.

Smothering voices of dissent

A science teacher from a government school in Patiala told The Indian Express that whichever teacher tries to raise his/her voice and tells department officials about the problems being faced by students in rural areas, he/she is transferred to border district Tarn Taran as a punishment. “Many students in rural areas do not have access to smartphones or even television. Most students are also working as labourers with their family members in paddy fields. We try to send them PDF worksheets and voice notes which consume less data but they cannot access phones all the time. What is the use of online evaluation and tests when they aren’t understanding anything? They request us to take their tests because they know that at home they can copy and write..,” the teacher said.

Gurbachan Singh, a maths teacher from Khanna, who has been ‘transferred to Tarn Taran as punishment for “not giving online assignments to students” and “writing objectionable comments against education department on a WhatsApp group”, said, “We have been told to conduct online tests for 100 per cent students but how is it possible when all of them do not have access to smartphones? Many of them don’t even have textbooks as many titles haven’t been printed and delivered yet. Even those who have phones, they recharge them with small net packs. They cannot download long videos and watch lectures for 2-3 hours. There is no preparation, no understanding of concepts but teachers have to evaluate and take exams. How fake and hollow is this? We try to answer queries on WhatsApp and send PDFs but is it our fault if some students can’t even access that?”

Hardly a family in Punjab that can’t afford smartphone: State SCERT director

Jagtar Singh, director, Punjab SCERT, said, “I refuse to believe that there is any family in Punjab which is so poor that they cannot afford a smartphone for their child’s education. Students will arrange it someway or the other if they really want to learn something. Our aim behind conducting these classes and tests online is to keep students connected with study material as schools are closed. They should not sit idle and waste time.”

Asked if online evaluation tests will hold any relevance when students aren’t prepared, he said, “Why should we think negative that they will copy/cheat? Our students are now well-trained on how to do everything online…There is no issue anywhere…”

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