The Patna High Court has asked the Bihar government to look for ways beyond online classes to teach 1.19 crore children in the state, who are unable to attend classes due to schools’ closure during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The court’s order, giving detailed direction to the state government, was in response to a suo motu notice taken by HC on a report by The Indian Express on July 7. The report had highlighted that children in Bhagalpur district had taken to ragpicking after discontinuance of midday meal scheme in schools following their closure.
In its order on Friday, a division bench of HC Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar asked the state government to “continue schemes like the midday meal scheme and Sarwa Shiksha Scheme to provide meals or ration, as feasible, along with textbooks and notebooks to government school students”.
The court said the government has to ensure that statutory benefits under the Food Security Act are disbursed in a timely manner, and updated records are maintained for it. The bench also asked the government to “procure and prepare digital lectures for students of all classes”. The order stated: “Install community-level TV sets and distribution of radio sets, ensuring the increase of reach of remote learning platforms. Perhaps, at the community level, small batches of children can be shown lectures on TV, while maintaining social distancing norms.”
The court said as penetration of mobile phones handsets is bigger in Bihar, authorities should “consider devising and implementing an action plan to utilise” this. “To ensure engagement, consider expanding the possibility of waiver of telecom charges on the mobile handset or telephone being used for accessing educational programmes. Use telecom/digital infrastructure to mark daily attendance of students. A call placed on the designated toll-free number may be programmed to record the daily attendance,” the court ordered. The order came following the state government’s reply to the court after The Indian Express report. The bench asked the government to “organise a robust ‘Back to School’ campaign… to ensure a minimal dropout rate is achieved”.
The court also asked the government to monitor nutritional health of children by leveraging the reach of anganwadi workers, who can keep track of children’s growth by recording their weight and height at regular intervals.
Following The Indian Express report, both the HC and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had taken suo motu cognizance of discontinuance of midday meal. The state government resumed distribution of foodgrain in schools and gave periodic compliance report to the High Court.
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