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Online Schooling – Luxury for Poor – By Binny Yadav

Education for poor is appearing to be one of the many big challenges in Corona times. Government and private schools are running online classes since March end and students are supposed to attend these classes which are being tracked by their respective education boards.

Although most of the schools are well equipped to adopt the government guidelines for online schooling and with some initial glitches the system is well in place and working. But all isn’t well with these online schooling.

These are those 25 per cent in private schools under Economically Weaker Section (EWS) plus other disadvantageous category (DC) children who belong to the low-income or poor families who are in danger of missing the academics.

For Surekha (name changed) and her twin brother it is a daily struggle how to smoothly attend to these classes and then upload daily assignments given by different teachers. The sibling study in a private school of South Delhi under EWS category and their daily goals include contacting their “well off” classmates to forward them the assignments uploaded by the teachers. The other ordeal is to hang in the balcony or keep shunting in and out of the balcony and their small house to check the best location of internet signal in the mobile phone of their mother. Krishna, their mother has multiple worries.

The children are missing on the lecture due to internet connectivity issues and these children keep hanging in the balcony for best mobile signals. The other major worry is the availability of mobile phones. Children are using the phone of their mother and father but many a times  Krishna’s husband has to go out for some work then either he leaves his phone set at home and goes without the phone as the family do not have any other modes to get hooked to online schooling like desktop, laptop or I pads. The most she is worried about the health of the eyes of her children.

“Yes, we understand these short comings”, says teachers who are involved with online teaching and claims that the schools are adequately trying to facilitate such students.  But the ground situations for these 25 percent EWS Students who study in private schools and have to compete with the children of upper middle class and rich families who are well equipped with desktops, laptops and I pads these online schooling is no less than a daily struggle. The school schedule starts at around 9 in the morning and continues till 1:30 and then children have multiple assignments to be submitted online daily. First, the availability of mobile set with android is a big challenge for many. Then disruption of signal results in missed lectures, smaller screen sizes of mobile phone is not only tiring but creates distractions and many more other issues.

These are more then 30,000 students belonging to EWS/DC studying in private schools of Delhi alone. Many of these do not have access to even desktops hence laptops and i-pads are the extreme luxuries.

The situation is more critical in government schools. In Delhi although the government claims that students in public schools have video conferencing facilities the fact is out of 28 -30 children in a class only half or less are connected to online classes.  Many families still don’t own android phone and others have problems with their data. The pre-paid connections have major connectivity issues during long video conferencing call.

In one of the government aided school in Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh, out of 120 EWS students only 17 are able to avail the facilities of online schooling. The reasons are similar. Either the parents do not have android phone set or there is no money to charge the SIM or there are connectivity issues.

According to Tarranum Chaudhary, who teaches in one such school, there are many students from poor families who are missing these classes because they have shifted to their native villages before lockdowns and it is difficult to contact them as there phone numbers of their parents remain switched off.

Section 12 of the Right to Education Act says that all private schools have to secure 25 per cent seats to EWS/DC students and bear the expenses of uniform, books and stationary. According to a Public Interest Litigation filed by an NGO, Justice for All, it is the duty of the schools and the government to overcome any barrier whatsoever for free education to the children of EWS/DC. Many of these children are standing in the que to collect free food packets and others who are able to afford android mobile phone connecting to the video conferencing, Zoom App or Microsoft teaming is a joke because long video conferencing through mobile phone is challenging enough considering that most of these families have pre-paid phones and either the SIM is not charged or there are internet connectivity issues.

Advocate Khagesh Jha on behalf of the NGO has pleaded to the Supreme Court that since Right To Education puts a binding on the government to facilitate EWS students with every need related to education at par with their well-to-do counterparts, schools and the government should ensure the these students do not face disruption in schooling due to accessibility to online classes. “These are not the optional but mandatory classes with mendatory 70 per cent attendance,” says Khagesh. There is an apprehension that due to non-connectivity with the online classes many of EWS and DC students might face a “zero” session, he says.

The NGO has prayed to the court to either arrange for the equal facilities to EWS/DC students by ensuring video conferencing and online classes or redesign the syllabus to suit the mobile technology. Although the Delhi government has claimed in the court that all EWS and DC students have facilities of video conferencing and almost 80 per cent students are attending online classes conducted by private schools. Even if we believe the government there is a looming question of remaining 20 per cent students who are missing schools and which is not a small number.  

The Supreme Court of India has directed the Central government and the government of Delhi to submit a detailed report with respect to the availability of facilities of online classes to EWS and disadvantageous category students.

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