No respite for poor students with no smartphones, Internet
Malkeet Singh’s 12-year-old son, a Class 6 student at a private school in west Delhi, is worried ever since his school switched to online lessons and tests following the Covid-19 lockdown. As no one in his family owned a smartphone, he was unable to appear for the seven tests conducted by his school recently.
“We had repeatedly conveyed our problem to the class teacher and the school but to no avail,” said Singh, a contractual driver who lost his job during the lockdown imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. Singh’s children are among the several hundred students admitted under the Economically Weaker Section quota in the 1,700 private schools in the capital every year and are entitled to free education. Parents with an annual income of less than ₹1 lakh can seek admission under the EWS quota.
However, the switch from classroom teaching to online education has left them in the lurch.
Earlier this month, Hindustan Times had reported that students enrolled in private schools under the Economically Weaker Section quota are struggling to attend online classes due to the lack of devices and high-speed Internet and have been unable to take their exams as well. A plea in this regard was also filed in the Delhi High Court by the NGO Justice For All which contended that over 50,000 such students would be affected by the decision of private schools to conduct online education.
“Schools can make temporary provisions for students who are not able to access online education. Instead, they have been ignoring these children who are unable to catch up due to lack of access to devices or the Internet. An alternative mechanism should be arranged for such students so that their academic year is not under threat,” said advocate Shikha Sharma, secretary of Justice for All.
Despite the Delhi government’s submission in the ongoing case—which said that under the Right to Education Act, schools should provide equipment if such children were unable to access online education—little has changed on the ground.
Laxman, a resident of Nangloi who works as a carpenter, said that his family had no means of getting a smartphone with his meagre means. The family is currently struggling to ensure that their son finishes his holiday homework on time.
“My son, who studies in Class 3, had his tests earlier this month. Since we have no high-end smartphone or computer, we had to borrow phones from our relatives or neighbours and all his submissions were delayed. While formulating plans of how to conduct studies during this pandemic, schools and authorities should think of alternative measures for families like ours as well,” he said.
Families with multiple children also had their own share of struggles. “There is just one phone in the house and I have three children. They have all received tons of homework and we don’t know how to help them all. There are constant fights between them to attend classes,” Rakesh Thakur, a Kalyanpuri resident, whose children study in classes 5, 3, and 2, said.
SK Bhattacharya, the president of Action Committee of Unaided Recognized Private Schools, said it wasn’t practically feasible for private schools to bear the additional burden of providing smartphones and laptops to children and wait for the reimbursement from the Centre.
“We haven’t received any written complaint from EWS students on the matter so far. I don’t think there is anyone in Delhi who does not own a smartphone. Besides, they should also look at what is happening in government schools. Why this targeting of private schools? If they are so sympathetic to the cause, they should distribute laptops among all such students,” he said.
“Government schools are conducting online classes for classes 9 to 12, which is outside the ambit of the Right to Education Act. Private schools are conducting online classes for everyone, including junior-level classes up to Class 8. The RTE Act clearly mandates that the educational material has to be provided by schools. So while during regular teaching, the books and materials were provided by private schools, the necessities of online education should also be provided by them,” a senior official from the Directorate of Education said.