Updated: July 27, 2021 11:41:32 am
Entering their school campus after months on Monday, Manisha and her brother Nikhil bowed down to touch the ground as a mark of respect, which had been their daily habit, until Covid-19 changed everything.
When schools closed due to the pandemic, the siblings suddenly found themselves trying to grapple with the new system of online education. Their father, a gas mechanic, had to take a loan of Rs 12,000 to buy them a smartphone so they could continue to study. Add to that the monthly recharges to keep the internet running.
On Monday, Punjab schools reopened for classes X to XII. Meanwhile, students of classes VI to XII accompanied their parents to school for a parent-teacher meeting (PTM) to discuss their online test results and other issues.
Since schools in Punjab have been closed since March, when the second wave peaked, this was the first time students and their parents formally met their teachers (of the new session).
Manisha, a seventh-grader at Government High School in Nayagaon, Mohali, says she wants classes to start as soon as possible. “It is not at all fun to study on phones…everything becomes more complicated,” she adds.
Manisha’s father Harish Kumar, says, “I had to borrow Rs 12,000 from someone to buy a smartphone for the online education of my children. Covid has hit poor people very hard and then they do not even understand concepts as much as they did during classroom teaching.”
For parents like Harish, who earn hand to mouth and are trying to continue the schooling of their children with little resources and limited income, reopening of schools has come as a breather.
Most of the government school teachers The Indian Express spoke to said parents readily gave their written consent to send their children back to school for physical classes.
Noor Jahaan, whose husband pulls a rehri (cart) to earn for the family, accompanied her daughter Tamanna, a class X student at Government High School, Nayagaon, says she couldn’t have been happier about schools reopening. “Since the pandemic started, every month, we had to incur an additional expenditure of Rs 200-250. It was never easy for my husband, but it became even tougher to continue our daughter’s studies since Covid started. Tamanna was using her elder sister’s phone to study but now she too has joined work. So we were planning to buy a new smartphone for Tamanna. Schools reopening has come as a major relief. I am more than happy to give written consent to send her to school now.”
“I faced a lot of issues while studying since Covid started. I had to miss many classes online when I didn’t have the phone with me. Moreover, it is too difficult to understand concepts on the phone. It is no match to classroom teaching,” says Tamanna.
“There are network issues during online classes…. then you can’t ask queries. In the classroom, our teachers are always there to answer our queries. We want schools to open for us too,” said Sakshi, a class VII student.
The reopening of schools has also made single and working parents happier, like Maan Singh’s mother, who works as a daily wager.
A class IX student, Maan, who came to attend the PTM with his mother, said, “My father died some years ago. My mother lifts bricks and stones. We never had a smartphone. My grandmother got a new smartphone for me on instalments for Rs 15,000 after she saw that I wasn’t able to study online. They should open schools for class IX too.”
His teacher, Kamaljit Kaur, said, “Students from economically weaker families still don’t have smartphones. Their parents are mostly daily wagers and even if they have a phone, they are not at home for the whole day. Parents of most students in government schools work as daily wagers… it is unfair to expect that they would buy costly smartphones for their children. Sometimes when an exam is ongoing online, their phone balance ends and they don’t have money for recharge. So we teachers also try to help them and get a recharge done from our pockets so that they can at least appear for exams.”
Several government teachers from Ludhiana, Moga, Muktsar and other districts said most parents have given their written consent. “In rural households, students are mostly from farming and daily wager families, so parents are very happy with schools reopening,” said Ashok Kumar, a teacher from Muktsar.
“Some parents are in a dilemma, that their children might get infected, but with most of the teachers fully vaccinated, we are trying to counsel them. But most parents feel that children were not taking online studies seriously and were instead playing games on phone all day,” said Anju Gupta, a teacher from Government Senior Secondary School, PAU, Ludhiana.
Teachers also said that while the government has made it mandatory for them to be fully vaccinated to attend schools, teachers who are yet to get their second dose are in a fix. “How can we get our second dose before completing 84 days after the first dose?” asked a teacher.
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