While children across the city stand to benefit from the Delhi High Court’s recent ruling that private schools must provide gadgets and internet packages free of cost to students belonging to economically weaker section (EWS) and disadvantaged groups (DG) categories, there is not much of a financial gap between them and fee-paying students in many smaller private schools.
On Friday, the HC had ordered private schools and government schools like Kendriya Vidyalayas to provide free gadgets and internet packages to EWS/DG students to address the intra-class gap between them and fee-paying students, and “to ensure level playing field, and to remedy this digital divide”.
At Sant Gyaneshwar Public school in Khampur, for instance, around 15% of students are not attending online classes held via the Zoom app. According to school manager Mukesh Kumar Bhatia, these students are from both EWS and fee-paying categories. With a monthly fee starting from Rs 1,000 and going up to Rs 1,600, most of the fee-paying and EWS students are from similar backgrounds – farming families, residents of resettlement colonies and JJ clusters.
“The ones who are not attending are from families that do not have gadgets. We have been trying to reach out to them as well; if there are other students who live close to them, we are sending videos to those children and asking them to share the device for some time with the children missing out,” he said.
Sushil Dhankar, who runs Hari Vidya Bhawan School in Sangam Vihar, said the average monthly family income of most students in his school is between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000.
“In an area like ours, the difference between EWS and fee-paying students is who had the necessary documents in place and got through the draw of lots. We have around 10% students across both categories who don’t have smartphones at all. Another problem among most students is that families have just one smartphone. So in most cases, classes of the younger children are being compromised, which is why we are sending videos of the classes to them so they can watch those later. In a school like ours, I feel like it might be better to look at all families below a certain income level as beneficiaries,” he said.
At White Leaf Public School, Pooth Khurd, principal Sunil Sharma said only 50-60% students are attending online classes due to a similar situation.
These schools also raised concerns on the process of reimbursement by the state government for the purchase of devices. “I certainly hope there will be a strict enforcement of a deadline by when schools can expect to be reimbursed. We already deal with long delays in the basic EWS/DG reimbursement every year. With the general lack of fee collection this year — less than 10 students have paid fees in my school this month – it will be too large a burden for small schools to bear,” said Hari Prakash Sharma, owner of New Happy Public School, which starts with a fee of Rs 800.
The director of education did not respond to queries from The Indian Express.
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