‘Want govt to focus on education sector’, says Anand Gupta
It’s been 10 months since Anand Gupta, 26, left his hostel room at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai complex, shortly before the nationwide lockdown was announced in March 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A second-year Masters student in development studies, Gupta and his batch mates vacated the hostel and returned home after classes ended in March, planning to come back by May to take the exams that were suspended in light of the lockdown. But the en-masse transfer of classroom lectures and teaching online upended his plans.
Gupta is now stuck in his ancestral village on the outskirts of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh with no clear path ahead. Internet connectivity in the village is poor, making it more difficult for him to follow lectures, amid uncertainty over when he would be back in a physical class.
“Many of us are stuck in villages where 4G network is very scarce so attending regular online lectures online turned into a nightmare for many of us,” said Gupta.
Many of his friends were forced to miss important class work as the mobile network connectivity is not enough to stream lectures every day.
He lives with his parents and two siblings and usually attends lectures on his phone, but adds that connectivity problems are hurting his studies. “It has been an uphill task for me to tackle,” he said.
Gupta said he is acutely aware of the digital divide in the education sector, quoting the recent recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2020), “The ASER survey highlighted only 11% children had access to live online classes during days of lockdown, painting a very tragic picture. Loss of income for people in the low-income strata of the society directly affected the future of children in the society,” he added.
Across India, Gupta’s problem is shared by millions of school and college students who went to their homes in rural districts after the lockdown was clamped on March 25. But poor internet penetration meant that they couldn’t attend all lectures, missed exams or waited for months for certainty on test schedules, results and job placements.
Gupta says the digital divide distresses him personally because it puts his future in jeopardy. “Online lectures are like seeing the Taj Mahal on website or visiting it on virtual reality platform of Zoom. Physical lectures are more like going to Agra and visiting the Taj Mahal,” he added.
A study published in International Journal for Community Medicine and Public Health in September 2020 found 51% of college and university students in India had symptoms of depression and another 37% had that of anxiety because of irregular classes, increased financial stress of families and disturbed sleep.
Gupta wants to continue higher studies, and claimed that in the last few months, money paid by the government to doctoral students has been irregular, and that many students in the higher education sector were also suffering from erratic payment of money from central or state government bodies. As a Masters student, he doesn’t receive any fellowship money.
For the Union budget, Gupta wants the government to regularise payment and hike the fellowships. “Fellowship money is what many research scholars survive on, in some cases, their families too. This budget should also focus on timely payment of fellowship money and if possible, higher remuneration as well,” said Anand.
Gupta also hopes that the Centre focuses on the education sector, which gets roughly 4.6% of the Gross Domestic Product in spending, to help students adjust to the new normal of online classes and examinations
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