The GPS-enabled surveillance of government primary school teachers has run into trouble in 1,375 schools across Gujarat that are in the “black spots”, struggling with mobile and Internet connectivity.
Even as government advertisements on radio praise this mo-de of attendance for school teachers run from a command and control centre, school principals have to travel upto seven kilometres in search of mobile connectivity in these areas to upload teachers’ attendance data. The education department says that local administrators have been given the task to cover these areas under mobile network but talks with private mobile operators have failed.
As per the survey held by the Gujarat education department, a total of 1,375 schools don’t have mobile network. In addition, nearly 8,000 government primary schools do not have internet facility and they share the attendance data on SMS. Gujarat has nearly 33,000 schools.
Among the 33 districts, the tribal district of Dang with 128 government primary schools tops the list with the highest number of schools out of total 1,375 government primary schools that are not under mobile coverage. Dahod, another tribal district, is not far behind with 120 identified government schools where teachers have to travel several kilometres for mobile coverage.
Of the 33 districts, only three — Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and Mehsana — are fortunate enough to not have a single school in the black spot. The remaining 30 districts have no mobile connectivity in schools, the least being three schools in Botad to 128 schools in Dang.
In the forest areas of Waghai taluka in Dang district, out of a total 112 government primary schools, nearly 45 schools are in the black spots. With no landline phones in school, dependance on mobile phones gets even worse.
“The mobile network coverage is very poor in the area. There no signal in and around the school. We have to go as far as seven kilometres to get signal as we have been asked to upload teachers’ and students’ attendance daily by 11.30 am. We have communicated our difficulties to our higher authorities who have assured us that a solution is being looked into,” said a primary school teacher at Chikhala in Waghai taluka of Dang district, on condition of anonymity.
In Kalibel area, after the school starts at 10.30 am, one of the five teaching staff commutes some 15 kilometres daily to search for mobile connectivity to make a call to another school principal or the taluka primary officer (TPO) to update the daily attendance of teachers and students. The primary schools have a strength of around 100 students each till Class V. In the area, only three out of total 10 government primary schools have mobile connectivity.
“Worst days are during monsoon when we have to hunt for network. Even if are lucky to get one, it would not stay for long. It gets extremely difficult to have a conversation without several call drops. We have to walk upto a dungar (hillock) to get signal but getting internet coverage is only next to impossible there too,” said Ramesh Dhumad a teacher at Patli village of Waghai taluka. He was the only government primary teacher in the village till June.
The Patli government primary school till Class V has 37 students. Ramesh has to travel at least two kilometres one way to call up his friend who is another teacher and give him his school’s attendance data to upload. Recently, the school got another teacher transferred temporarily from another school nearby.
Another teacher at Bhadarpada village in Waghai taluka who did not wish to be named, said, “Not only extensive vegetation but clouds also add to the network issue. Teachers’ attendance is communicated before we start from our home or before leaving the network area for the school in the morning as most of the times we know who is on leave and who will be present. But for students’ attendance we have to wait till the half time as they keep coming late.”
Admitting the issue, principal secretary education, Vinod Rao, said, “The local administrators (district collectors) have been informed about the issue and have been requested to arrange for mobile connectivity in these areas to bring these schools out of the black spots. Till that time, the teachers can communicate the daily attendance in the available ways.”
Sources said that private mobile network operators were approached to offer a solution. Dang Collector NK Damor said, “Earlier there was an issue where 53 villages were not covered under mobile connectivity. But three-four months ago, during the election time, these were covered by private operators like Airtel and Reliance Jio. Also six BSNL mobile towers have been set up.”
On June 9, the Chief Minister Vijay Rupani inaugurated the command and control centre set up by the education department in Gandhinagar.
The Indian Express reported on May 21, 2019 about the state government’s new “realtime technology enabled” surveillance plan to “keep an eye” on over 1.95 lakh school teachers for the new academic session from June 10. The aim was to improve the quality of education by ensuring that teachers stick to their assigned tasks on a daily basis. Officials say the system was devised after various discussions and reports that pointed out that poor monitoring of teachers resulted in absenteeism and “non-seriousness”.
Government primary schools that are majorly affected are in Amreli (97), Kutch (85), Panchmahal (74), Narmada (70), Chhota Udepur (67) and Banaskantha (61), Junagadh (55) and Surat (54) districts.