It has been a hard few months for schooling in Karuna’s home in East Delhi’s Trilokpuri. Ever since the beginning of the lockdown, her six-year old daughter, an EWS student at a private school in New Ashok Nagar, has not been in any contact with her teachers or classmates.
Much to the family’s joy, Nandini had been admitted to a medium-sized upper primary private school in class 1 last year through a draw of lots under the EWS quota. But the lack of a smartphone in the family has caused the dream to unravel.
“After the lockdown began, a teacher called me and asked for a WhatsApp number so my daughter could be added to a group for sharing learning material and sending links. I said nobody in our house has a smartphone. The teacher said it will be difficult in that case and never called back. I suppose all the other children are being taught something but my daughter has been idle at home for more than four months. Sometimes I try to teach her something, but I’ve only studied till class 6 myself, and she has been learning in English medium,” said Karuna.
With no one in the household earning — her husband was an e-rickshaw driver but is now ailing — she considered transferring Nandini to a government school. But members of Josh, an NGO which had helped her with the admission application process, discouraged her.
“We told her it is a rare opportunity to get admission to a good school through the EWS quota and that she shouldn’t get rid of it,” said Jyoti Mohare, a member of the NGO. They arranged for an old smartphone around 10 days ago, which Karuna says fell and got damaged when she was taking it to a shop for a tempered glass cover. So now, she is waiting for schools to physically re-open.
Over the last six months, school administration, teachers, students and parents have been grappling with the digital divide. While government and municipal corporation schools have tried to adapt to the economic situations of their students’ families by primarily using WhatsApp to distribute worksheets and allowing students to physically collect worksheets from schools once a week, in many private schools — almost all mid-level to elite — the primary medium of study has been synchronous online classes.
Among the most common issues, like in the case of Ram Kishor’s nieces, is families just having one smartphone and multiple children.
“My brother is a labourer and both his daughters are EWS students at the same school, but only he has one smartphone,” he said.
Many schools have been trying to work keeping in mind such limitations.
“We have taken printouts of all worksheets and study handouts, filed and bound them and distributed them among our EWS students, who all live nearby. We have also told them that they should not hesitate to call their teachers if they have doubts. Most of our students have been able to join online classes, even by borrowing a device from a neighbour, since it’s just a couple of hours a day. There are a couple of students who have gone back to their villages and that is a problem since they are unable to access anything there. When they return to Delhi, we will take extra classes for them,” said Rachna Pant, principal, Ramjas School RK Puram.
Some schools have also tried to gather devices for their students. “Just recently we started a social outreach programme, asking parents of fee paying parents who have extra or old gadgets — especially laptops — to contribute those for use by EWS students,” said Nikita Mann Tomar, who stepped down as principal of Tagore International School Vasant Kunj earlier this week.