Digital divide makes it difficult for students to study online
Lalit Kumar, 42, a painter, has been out of work for over two months. Besides the loss of livelihood, the disruption to his daughters’ studies has been a constant source of worry for Kumar, ever since Haryana government schools switched to online lessons via WhatsApp.
“We don’t have a phone. The girls borrow one from their aunt and uncle who live in the vicinity, and try to catch up with the lessons,” Kumar, whose five daughters study in government schools in the city, said.
A resident of Om Nagar, he said that his family cannot afford a smartphone. “I have had no work for the past two-three months. We have been trying to manage on our meagre resources. Buying a phone is the last thing on our minds,” Kumar, whose wife works as a sanitation worker in a city hospital, said.
Kumar’s 12-year-old daughter Manisha who studies in Class 8 in Government Middle School in Shivaji Nagar, said, “I borrow a phone to check for messages from the teacher. There are delays, but we try to do the best we can.” Her sisters also borrow their aunt and uncle’s phone for their lessons. “Officials from the education department had advised us to use a television for the lessons. But we don’t own that either,” Kumar said.
Since the nationwide lockdown came into effect on March 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), schools across the country have suspended classes. The central government is scheduled to review the situation next month. Although many institutes have taken the online route and the government has also tailored television programmes for the purpose, several students like Manisha do not have regular access to such devices. From affordability to accessibility, students in government schools continue to struggle.
Prinshu Awasthi, a Class 10 student of Government Senior Secondary School, Manesar, has been attending lessons since April on WhatsApp using his father’s phone. “I use it in the morning before he leaves for work. If the phone is not available, I try to catch up with lessons via the television broadcast. Earlier, we would not recharge our phone for days unless there was a pressing concern, but now the usage is more regular. We have to recharge the Internet facility more frequently,” Prinshu said.
Prinshu is lucky. While he has both a smartphone and television at home, many of his friends do not.
“Our teachers have asked them to borrow phones from others or use WhatsApp on their neighbours’ and friends’ phones until the situation improves. However, they say that borrowing all the time is neither feasible nor something that they are keen to do,” Prinshu said.
Haryana government initiated the ‘Ghar se Padhao’ campaign on April 14 to ensure that teachers remain in regular contact with parents and students through WhatsApp during the lockdown. While teachers share academic videos and worksheets, they require students to maintain a dedicated notebook to record their work. According to a report prepared by the education department last month, around 70% of government school students from classes 2 to 12 in the district were connected via WhatsApp as part of the campaign.
The remaining students have struggled to stay in tune with the rest of the class on WhatsApp due to accessibility and connectivity issues.
Kanishka Bansal, a Class 11 student of Government Senior Secondary School, Kadipur, has been using WhatsApp on a phone that his family bought recently so he and his sister Richa could catch up with online classes. “We bought another phone for our mother so we could take lessons on WhatsApp and did not have to depend on others,” Richa said.
“Sometimes, they share the links in the morning and sometimes at night. They ask us to make notes and submit pictures of the assignment. Most people have connected to the group, but some are not regular and use phones borrowed from others to share assignments and tests,” Kanishka said.
District education officer Indu Boken had earlier told HT that the Internet was crucial for imparting lessons, adding that for those who didn’t have access to the Internet, lessons would be broadcast on cable TV. Some officials from the education department have also pooled in resources to provide smartphones to students who have trouble accessing online classes. “Some children have not been able to access lessons since they did not have smartphones. Not everyone can afford these phones. However, to help, we distributed some smartphones to meritorious students,” Ritu Chowdhary, district project coordinator, Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, said.