The online classes have remained a struggle for Pooja. A class XII student from village Dau Majra in Ludhiana, Pooja doesn’t have a smartphone. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown dried up the meager income of her father, a ‘feri wala’ who moves from village to village selling utensils. She and one of her brothers – they are four siblings – used to visit their respective friend’s place to borrow their smartphones to complete their homework.
So, as she was handed over a smartphone Wednesday under under ‘Punjab Smart Connect Scheme’ of the Congress government in state, Pooja was elated.
“Now, I will be able to keep pace with daily syllabus and won’t miss any class and or updates. Those who had smartphones never faced any problem. My father earns Rs 12,000 a month and he could not afford to buy a separate phone for us,” said Pooja.
Similar is the story of Harpreet Kaur from village Jallah, also in Ludhiana. Harpreet’s father is the only one in family with a smartphone. He, however, works as truck mechanic and returns home only around 9 pm or ever later. Her school work would remain pending till then. “Even when he reached home, I had to share the phone with my two other siblings who too go to school. I would get the phone for very less time and it wasn’t always possible to complete the pending work,” said Harpreet.
A beneficiary under the smartphone scheme, Harpreet said she now “won’t have to wait to complete the work.”
Free smartphones to students was a key pre-poll promise of the Congress, which Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh finally started fulfilling Wednesday, three years after coming to power.
Among the students who received phones Wednesday were those whose parents or families had no smartphones or those had been sharing it with their siblings, or those whose parents could not afford to buy them the device.
The Indian Express spoke to several of them.
Sukhandeep Kaur from Government senior secondary school, Payal (Girls), whose father is a laborer and hasn’t been working since months being a patient of acute anemia, has three other siblings. “I have been borrowing phone from my cousins to complete homework. There was always the issue of timing as they too have online classes to attend. My mother works as domestic help. She can’t afford to buy a smartphone for us,” said Sukhandeep.
“Now at least we have one smartphone in our own home and we siblings can adjust as per our timings. Students like me weren’t able to study during lockdown because of lack of smartphones. My paternal uncle’s children are still facing same problem, I hope they too get phones like me,” she said after being handed over a smartphone under the government scheme.
A single mother after her husband died in 2009 in a road accident, Surinder Kaur from Moga said that her daughter Harmanjit Kaur will now be able to complete her work timely. “After my husband’s death, I am working in a hospital for Rs 8,000 a month. I cannot afford to buy a separate smartphone for Harmanjit. Her education was suffering. Now that problem has been solved at least” said Surinder Kaur.
Some students who were sharing phones with their siblings said that getting their own phones have come as a big relief.
Vaneet, a class XII student from Government Senior Secondary School (Boys), Jawahar Nagar, Ludhiana, said, “My father works as security supervisor and he did not had a smartphone. My elder brother is having one but he would hardly give it to me to complete work. Now I have my own phone and it is a big relief. I don’t have to depend on him to complete school work.”
Amandeep Kaur (17) from village Mallianwala of Moga, whose father earns Rs 300-350 a day working as an agricultural laborer, said, “I had no smartphone at home. My elder brother has one but he would hardly let me touch it even for completing homework. Though now I have to share phone with my another sibling who also goes to school but at least now I don’t have to beg my elder brother. I am elated today. I can even click a selfie or two to take a break from hectic schedule.”
In Ludhiana district, a total of 16,677 students of class XII studying in 188 senior secondary schools would be benefited under this scheme in the first phase. These include 8,179 boys and 8,498 girls.
Across Punjab, the scheme for which Rs 100 crore was allocated in the state budget for 2017-18, is expected to benefit a total of 1,74,015 Class XII students of government schools in the first phase, to be completed by November 2020. Of these, 87,395 are boys and 86,620 girls, with majority in the OBC and SC/ST categories . While 36,555 beneficiaries are OBC students, 94,832 are SC and 13 ST students. The bulk of the students – 1,11,857, are from rural areas, and the remaining in urban government schools.
Meanwhile, as some leaders in the Opposition termed the scheme as a political gimmick as CM’s photo is embossed on the back of the phone, the beneficiaries said they have nothing to do with the politics.
“I have nothing to do with politics or any political party. But I feel all students should get phones like I got today as it will help them in their education,” said Pooja.
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