IT’S 8.30 am, and time for Pravinsinh Jadeja, a primary school teacher in Gujarat’s tribal district of Dahod, to leave home for work. But instead of the freshly painted two-room school in Zerjitgadh village, the 43-year-old takes a detour on a narrow mud road, cutting through farms and hillocks, to an open backyard.
This is his classroom for the day. And the seven children with him, studying in Class 3, are all he could find on the way for an hour-long session with online material on his smartphone and books in his bag.
The seven are among the 60 out of 87 children in classes 3-5 at the primary school who do not have Internet or TV to access the state government’s Home Learning Programme aired on DD Girnar. And Jadeja is among about 30 teachers across 10 villages in Dahod who “have gone out of their way” to voluntarily ensure that these students don’t fall by the wayside.
“We have been with these children from the time they started going to school, and we want them to be a part of this new learning process,” says Jadeja.
“Only three students in the school have TVs at home, which cater to a maximum of about 20 other students keeping social distancing norms in mind. The others are being tutored in groups at their homes by teachers. The school has three teachers, including the principal, who take turns to visit children and conduct classes,” says an official.
The Home Learning Programme, for classes 3-12, was launched on June 15 to ensure that the new academic session is not affected by the pandemic. But in villages like Zerjitgadh, this has brought new challenges.
Jadeja’s class begins on his 5.5 inch Android smartphone with a live session on DD Girnar’s YouTube channel. The lesson is titled “Pani Anmol Che (Water is Precious)”, and Jadeja frequently hits pause to ask questions to the seven students seated on a cot.
The session is interrupted by heavy winds and a patchy network, and also by the mooing of a cow and the song of a cyclist passing by. But Jadeja is quick to draw attention back to the next task — maths homework, and assignments for the next class on Friday.
“The major task is to locate the students, many of whom accompany their parents or grandparents to farms. Another challenge is to keep them involved…the idea of learning from a phone is new. It is also important to ensure that they understand what the educator is saying,” says Somsinh Mohaniya, the school principal.
“Without a blackboard and chalk, it’s difficult to understand what is being taught,” says Mittal Ninama, a Class 5 student. “But it is fun to study from the teacher’s mobile, and we wait for him.”
“These teachers are our only hope,” says Soma Bhagat, whose backyard is the classroom for the day. “My three sons and their wives work as contract labourers in Vadodara. There is no smartphone or TV at home. So I ensure that my grandchildren are ready by 9 am for the home classes.”
Dahod has 1,53,195 students enrolled in classes 3-5 of government primary schools. The latest daily data shows that only 60,425 (39.44 per cent) accessed the Home Learning Programme on Wednesday. Of the 2,13,228 students in classes 6-12 of government schools, only 90,318 (42.35 per cent) accessed the programme that day.
According to 2018 data from the Department of Telecommunications, the service area-wise Internet subscription stood at 8.26 million in rural Gujarat, and 23.16 million in the state’s urban areas.
“Dahod is socio-economically backward, with rampant migration over the years. Earlier, children used to travel with their parents but have now started to stay back for education. We are trying to ensure that they continue to do so,” says D B Patel, District Primary Education Officer.
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