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Friday, September 25, 2020

Five months and counting: EWS students continue to miss online classes

No phone, no internet, thousands of students have been out of school for months. Among those attending online classes, math and science are trickier. Meanwhile, academicians worry about the foundation of younger kids and board exams for the older ones

Written by Shyna Kalra | New Delhi | Updated: August 29, 2020 4:09:18 pm
EWS students, poor students, students without devices, online classes, elearning, schools reopening, when will school reopen, education newsAmong those who have access to devices, sharing phones among family members leads to many missing classes (Image: Pixabay/Representational)

Parul, a Class 4 student of Modern Public School at New Delhi’s Shalimar Bagh, has turned into a teacher for her two younger siblings during the pandemic. While the 10-year-old gets photocopied notes from her school, her siblings are not provided any such resources. The family of five has only one mobile phone which, to make matters worse, does not support the internet. The parents are not educated and the father, who worked at a shop before the Covid-19 lockdown, is now unemployed. He collects notes from Parul’s school, however, they are yet to buy books for any of them for the new academic year.

“I teach counting, and ABC to my siblings on my rough copy. I teach them daily so they do not forget when the schools reopen. However, without new books, it is sometimes hard for me to understand from the notes I get from school. I am waiting for school to reopen and learn from my teachers,” Parul told indianexpress.com.

A government survey states that 27 per cent of children in central schools across India do not have access to smartphones or laptops which has turned to be the primary mode of teaching during the lockdown. The government acknowledges in the survey that education of children of migrants is “a critical issue” as these students have lost touch with their previous schools and are not enrolled in a school in the hometown, “nor are they aware of what the state government has to offer to them”.

Recently, Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia said that over 15 per cent students in Delhi’s government schools are ‘untraceable’ since the lockdown and are not attending the e-classes. These are the students who have migrated from their addresses and the contact numbers mentioned in the record are not traceable, said Sisodia. There are around 15 lakh students enrolled in over 1100 Delhi government schools.

Surveys conducted by NGOs and private bodies suggest the number of students missing on classes is much higher. Of the 25 crore students affected by the lockdown, 80 per cent fall in the EWS category and are struggling to attend classes due to lack of resources, according to a survey by scholarship ed-tech platform Buddy4Study. As per the survey, as many as 30 per cent students do not possess the infrastructure to pursue online learning.

Students having device do not have access

Among those who have smartphones, sharing of the device between parents and children or among siblings leads to one or more of them missing the classes. A teacher from Noida-based private-aided school told indianexpress.com: “When the classes started there were students in our classes who used to be absent for a week or so. The teachers personally reached out to them and it was found that even in the families with means, sharing of devices is making many miss classes. In my class, a girl student often misses classes because her brother who is in the senior wing has to use the same phone for his classes. For younger kids, classes are formative and hence essential too but families tend to give preference to classes 9-12.”

Read | Covid-19 impact: Unaided private schools fear closure as fees slashed, students switching to govt schools

While students who share devices sometimes get video recordings or WhatsApp assignments, for those from weaker sections of society and that too in a remote area, the battle is harder. For Rupa, a native of Uttar Pradesh who works as a house help in Punjab, says that none of her four kids have been receiving work from their local government school.

A study conducted by child rights body CRY in May-June claimed that 94 per cent of students in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana did not have access to smartphones or the internet for online education. Most of the students did not have their own smartphones and were sharing their devices with a family member. As per the survey, 55 per cent of these children get access to smartphones only for three days a week or less, while 77 per cent of them get access to smartphones for less than two hours a day.

Upcoming boards, math, and science the trickiest

Academicians believe that the prevailing situation might affect the board examinations as virtual classes do not offer a level playing field for all students or even schools.

Satyabrata Minaketan, Principal ODM Public School, Bhubaneswar said, “There are students from remote areas who do not have access to the internet or EWS students who lack the infrastructure to attend online classes – they will be at a disadvantage especially with regards to the upcoming board exams. With pre-board exams scheduled to be held in February, not every school in the area would be able to hold the monthly and quarterly exams to prepare students in advance. In our school, we had 20 orphan kids. We have not only given them a smartphone but have also appointed a teacher to regularly check on them. Even the students who have been taking the online classes casually or those who have the infrastructure but were not able to attend classes regularly due to disruptive internet or power connections or floods in the area will also be at a disadvantage for upcoming boards. We cannot expect all schools and students to be equally prepared for upcoming boards.”

Rajiv Ranjan, principal, Simultala Awasiya Vidyalaya — a government-led residential school at Simultala in Bihar that has a record of giving high performers in state board exams, told indianexpress.com, “We are fortunate that most of our students have access to smartphones, even if that means having one phone in the entire family. We mostly use low-tech facilities like WhatsApp to share assignments. However, not all students have the power supply and internet access at the same time, so we also record our lectures and send it to them to be used as per convenience.”

Yet, the principal is not at all confident for the upcoming boards as he says online classes cannot be a replica of offline classes. Even bright students are having trouble with subjects like science and mathematics when learning online, he said.

Read | Innovative learning, job counseling: Here’s how night schools are preventing dropout during lockdown

This is a trend across classes and states. “A majority of the stakeholders pointed out that mathematics as a subject was difficult to learn via online medium as it has a number of concepts that require interaction, continuous support and monitoring from the teacher. Science is also a subject of concern followed by social studies,” according to a Learning Outcome survey of the Ministry of Education released recently.

Currently, the Ministry of Education is in talks with state governments and central universities to create educational content to be telecast through TV sets and radios for children in disadvantageous groups. None of the students indianexpress.com talked to was leveraging from the facility, mostly due to lack of awareness. Further, the state and central boards are also planning to slash the syllabus for upcoming boards due to lack of instructional hours. While CBSE and CISCE have already reduced syllabi, not all state boards have done the same yet.

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