Schools in rural, remote areas can open others can begin online classes: CM

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Published on May 31, 2020 11:48 PM IST
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BySurendra P Gangan and Ankita Bhatkhande, Mumbai

Chief minister (CM) Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday directed the education department to begin the academic year from June by opening schools physically in remote and rural areas and virtually in the rest of the state.

The schools in rural and remote areas will function with maintaining social distancing norms while in others the government hopes to start online education.

The school education department is preparing a standard operation procedure (SOP) for the new academic year, tapping all possibilities of offline and online education through pre-loaded tablets, TV and radio channels, among others.

Thackeray held a video conference with education ministers, officials, experts from the field and legislators representing teachers on Sunday, to discuss the options to begin the academic year. The CM said that the academic year should not be wasted and the state should lead the way by setting an example of tiding over the difficulties arising out of the pandemic.

The CM was also told that online education could hit a hurdle as only 3.3% of the total 2.30 crore households have computers. However, 70% of households have TV sets, which can be used as a medium of instruction. This is one of the options that the government is keen to tap.

“The education department also expressed fear of girls dropping out due to the rising unemployment and the cut in the spending capacity of households. In such a scenario, opening schools is important,” said an official from the education department.

“Some of the private schools have already started their academic year online. The problem lies for students in rural areas, where online platforms do not work. Thus, we have decided to open the schools in remote and rural areas. We will have another meeting in the next three-four days to decide the modalities on opening the schools,” said Omprakash Babarao Kadu, minister of state, school education.

School education minister Varsha Gaikwad said that her department is preparing a statement of purpose (SOP) for the new academic year in consultation with experts from the education sector. Vandana Krishna, additional chief secretary of the department, said that Google has offered to provide their Classroom platform free of cost.

However, principals said that the government should wait at least till July to reopen schools. “It seems like a hasty decision to start schools in June irrespective of the zones that they are in. Even in green zones, the risk still remains as opening borders has facilitated free travel of people across regions. Children should not be put at risk just because we want to start schools,” said Prashant Redij, principal, Hilda Castelino High School in Kandivli. “While online learning in places like Mumbai can carry on, we don’t know how many students will be able to access it considering the availability of devices,” he added.

Ghanshyam Sonar, convenor, All India RTE Forum, said that the penetration of internet is low in the state, a factor that needs to be looked at before proposing online education. “Most students in the state do not have access to technology and even when they do, internet connectivity is an issue. Teaching has to focus on the learning outcome of students. Merely one-directional videos cannot be called teaching,” said Sonar. As per the data obtained by the state education department , only about 27% households have smartphone or electronic devices.

Kapil Patil, member of legislative Council from teachers constituency, attended the meeting. He said that Thackeray has assured to withdraw all teachers engaged in non-teaching activities. “Of the 5.5 lakh teachers employed in government and aided schools, nearly 10% are engaged in non-teaching activities. The CM said that the government is coming out with a strict notification banning authorities from engaging teachers in non-teaching activities. This will help state in availing more teachers imparting education, online or offline,” he said.

Parents said that they would not prefer sending their children even if schools start from June. “Most parents will not send their children to school for the next few months irrespective of the situation because there is a lot of fear. Especially in cities like Mumbai and Pune, no attempt should be made to start schools because the turnout would anyway be low,” said Alka Gade, a city-based parent.

On May 11, HT reported a survey conducted by ParentCircle, an online forum, which stated 54% parents from the city have said that they would not send their children to school at least for a month after they reopen.

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Sunday, December 05, 2021