Bilaspur: Perils of Online Education in Primary Schools

Online education has now become the norm and the government takes immediate pride in taking action for handling it all in the middle of a pandemic. However, there has been a huge difference between the assurances made by the government and the actual execution on the ground. While many government school students are finding it difficult to access online classes, in private institutions, teachers are facing immense pressure, all kinds of humiliation and harassment.

“Teaching has become a 24-hour thankless job as students now have access to your number and can text you anytime. These online classes have become a threat to family life,” says 42-year-old Ashwini, who teaches at a private school in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh.

“There have also been several cases of harassment in our school when it comes to female teachers teaching higher class students. Students edit and crop their pictures and post them on Instagram. They humiliate teachers by not responding even if they are present in the class. They sometimes remove the teacher or else mute them if we forget to do the required settings,” she adds.

She says that the CBSE board has become very student-centric when it comes to mental health, while neglecting the teachers. “We get anxious when we are unable to meet the deadlines because of technical challenges,” said Ashwini. On top of that, the school, she says, is conducting all kinds of events – from online fancy dress competitions to quizzes. Many private schools also celebrated Children’s Day where teachers had to perform online for kids.

Mission Antyodaya, a nationwide survey of villages conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development 2017-18, showed that 16% of India’s households received 1-8 hours of electricity daily, 33% received 9-12 hours, and only 47% received more than 12 hours a day. “Rich students are taking their online classes without any issues but if I talk about the kids from BPL [below poverty line] families, it is not the case,” says Seema, a 52-year-old teacher at a government-run primary school in Farhada village.

“Expecting a seven-year-old to access online classes is itself so naive of this government. Families in villages have at least five kids and own only one mobile phone, not necessarily an android, that belongs to the father. The kids remain very distant from mobile phones unlike upper-middle class and rich kids, where they start browsing rhymes on YouTube from a tender age,” she adds.

Also read: How Project Pahunch is Taking Steps to Help Provide Access to Online Education

Seema suggests that if the government intends to entirely shift to education online, they can’t ignore social factors such as domestic violence and alcohol abuse that impact the mental health of children.

The government has come up with various online portals like Diksha and Swayam to smoothen the online learning process. It claims that the digital content (study material) on Diksha is freely accessible and consumption of content does not require the users to invest in proprietary technology. However, it isn’t easy to use for all.

“We used the Diksha portal for training purposes. I used to take help of my daughter because even after watching so many tutorials on YouTube, it was difficult for me to operate these portals,” says Seema. “Moreover, some other teachers who live in villages frequently faced network issues.”

Under the Bharat Net Phase -2 scheme, Tata Projects was required to ensure high-speed broadband connectivity free through WiFi in 5,987 Gram Panchayats. But, in Chhattisgarh, so far, Tata Projects has twice received extension of timeline, first for a year in June 2019, and then for another six months, which expires in December 2020.

“We used to take online classes via zoom app and were supposed to upload the links on a government website too for the record. But, the scheme failed miserably because of very less student participation. Lately, the state government realised this and came up with yet another scheme – Padhai Tuhar Dwar. It aims at teaching children with the help of the community in their respective localities and villages. Under the scheme, teachers are advised to teach children within their localities in small groups.

Moreover, in private schools, where students live in urban areas and belong to a financially sound family, the situation isn’t commendable either.

“We are making concept clearing videos for students. In smaller classes, parents sit along with their kids. It becomes so intimidating for teachers as parents often interfere and prompt the child to ask certain types of questions. So many times I feel that they are trying to judge the teacher and assess their knowledge,” says Ashwini.

Talking about the success of online classes in imparting knowledge, she says that the ones who were not even able to pass, are getting more than 75% in online exams. “I know that they are not honest but what can I do? Exams are not at all authentic,” she adds.

In Chhattisgarh, the dropout rate has increased amid the coronavirus pandemic in private schools. The migrant children are at the highest risk of dropping out from school, after moving back to their hometowns. According to the UN, closures of educational institutions hamper essential services to children and communities, including access to nutritious food and the ability of many parents to work. Around 23.8 million additional children and youth (from pre-primary to tertiary) may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone, globally.

“The government should have considered these factors before making online learning mandatory for all. With this online learning, not even 20% of students are able to connect in my institution. Students from weaker sections of the society are the ones who are left out in this situation. This online learning is leaving these children behind and how this will get reimbursed in future, that only the future can tell.” says 55-year-old Sushil Kumar, a lecturer at a government-run higher secondary school in Bilaspur.

Srishti Chourasia is a journalism graduate from Delhi University who loves to read, travel and document reality.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty