Even as School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad had announced all state schools, barring in Vidarbha region, would “reopen” virtually from June 15 and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) would be released by the Chief Minister’s Office for schools, however, no guidelines were issued till late Sunday, leaving stakeholders anxious. Additional Chief Secretary Vandana Krishna said the guidelines would be released by the Chief Minister Monday.
On Friday, Gaikwad had said the state government was mulling over allowing schools to hold one-hour-long online class for students of Classes III to V. For students of Classes VI to VIII and IX to XII, virtual classes were proposed to be conducted two and three hours, respectively. State schools in Vidarbha region are due to reopen virtually on June 26.
Sources in the education department had said the guidelines would apply differently for each school based on their local situation, and as per the decision of the School Management Committee (SMC). The department had also said the state government had applied for a dedicated television channel for students who do not have access to internet or smartphones. The proposal, however, has not received approval from the Central government as yet.
Stakeholders, meanwhile, have blamed the education department for not making any provision for the underprivileged students – a large number of students do not have access to internet connectivity, android phones or computers – and the state-run schools that lack basic infrastructure to conduct online classes.
On Sunday, Maruti Mhatre, principal of Bhandup-based Amarkor Vidyalaya, said, “Starting online classes from Monday is not possible.” The school caters to students from nearby slums in Pratap Nagar and other areas. From Monday till Wednesday, the school plans to motivate parents and students so that “they won’t lose out on education for lack of resources”.
“Currently, many students are stressed about how they will continue studying without internet and phones, since many of them are struggling to even procure groceries. We want to tell them that their education won’t be lost due to these impediments. Once they’re motivated, we will try to find a way to continue studies for the next three months,” Mhatre said.
Of the 1,800 students in the Marathi-medium government-aided school, only 30 per cent have android phones. “Their phones don’t have the capacity to download videos that are over five minutes long,” Mhatre added.
Many schools in the state, sources said, have no plan in place for reaching out to students who will not be able to attend online sessions. Their managements are also yet to train teachers on how to conduct online sessions for students.
“We have prepared a timetable for a month for conducting lectures on Zoom, but we don’t know how many students will be able to connect,” said Sunanda Yewale, principal of Sion-based Shri Vallabh High School, adding that no special training has been given to teachers for administering education online. The English-medium unaided school caters to nearly 1,070 students, a sizeable chunk of whom hail from Dharavi.
While most ICSE, CBSE, and IB board schools have already begun new academic year virtually, most state schools are yet to complete admissions for the new academic year due to the lockdown. As per a recent report from the BMC, of 2,14,062 students studying in schools that have Classes I to VIII, only 1,00,049 (46.74 per cent) have remained connected to studies through various online learning initiatives that were begun by the department as well as the state government.
According to sources in the department, the state has not yet undertaken the initiative to study the number of students who have access to online resources and how many have migrated to other states. Without data in place, policy-making has taken a hit, sources said.
“Only about 25 per cent students have been able to make use of the Diksha App, being promoted by the state. While the minister has held consultations and meetings with people on the ground, timely communication has been missing due to administrative inefficiency,” said an official working with the department.
When contacted, School Education Commissioner Vishal Solanki said, “The guidelines will be released in a couple of days. It’s under process in Mantralaya.” On confusion regarding the medium to be used by state schools for online education, he said, “The State Council for Educational Research and Training is working on all these issues.” Gaikwad remained unavailable for comment.
BMC School Education Officer Mahesh Palkar said the department was waiting for the state guidelines. “We are not in a position to issue any directives to BMC schools on the matter. As soon as guidelines are released, we will forward it our schools for implementation.”
While the education department has, so far, distributed free Balbharti books for Classes I to VIII and have made books free for download through website, an announcement regarding reduction in syllabus is also awaited.
Earlier, the state education department had said that it was planning to reopen schools physically in phases. As per the proposal, schools in pockets that have not reported a single Covid-19 case for at least a month were likely to be reopened first. The department has also proposed to start physical teaching for Classes IX to XII from July onwards, Classes VI to VIII from August onwards, and Classes I to V from September onwards. Resuming school for Class XI student, meanwhile, would depend on the announcement of Class X results and completion of subsequent admission process, it said.
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