Mumbai: "I wait the entire day for my father to return in the night so that I can use his smartphone to access online classes," said Shewanti Patil, a Class 8 student who lives in Malwani, Malad (west). Just like Patil, many other students, parents and teachers of weak financial background express ground-level difficulties they face in online education terming it as a medium not meant for the poor.
Patil, whose father works as an autorickshaw driver, said, "My father comes home at 9 pm after completing his driving work. I wait the entire day for him to return home because he is the only one who has an Android smartphone in the house. My mother works as a domestic help and uses a simple feature phone. I use my father's phone in the night to access recorded online learning sessions."
Mukund Nair and Meena Nair, siblings studying in an Andheri school, said they sit outside their house every day in the afternoon waiting for their neighbour open WiFi network. Mukund Nair, a student of Class 9, said, "We do not have internet connection inside our house because my parents cannot afford it. My sister and I sit in the verandah outside my house where we can connect to my neighbour's WiFi network." Meena Nair, a student of Class 7, said, "I recite poems and read numerical tables outside my house."
Along with the lack of accessibility of internet connection, parents have raised the inability to afford technology necessary for online education. Jaydenra Kumar, a parent said, "I work as a freelance electrician and manage to earn a basic Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per month on project basis. But now due to lockdown, the income is low. I cannot afford to buy a new smartphone for my kids even I want to."
Omair Shakeel, a teacher of a Kurla school, said, "Out of 60 students in a class, we got an attendance of only 35 when we started conducting live online streaming since June 15. After observing this trend for a week, we realised some students do not have access to smartphone or internet throughout the day. So we began recording online sessions along with conducting live classes so that students can access it later."
Schools are using the simplest modes and basic platforms to reach online education to maximum students. Latha Venkat, Principal of KGS Sarvodaya Balika Vidyalaya, Malad (west), said, "We are sharing notes, audio and video sessions via WhatsApp as it is a simple and feasible platform to reach maximum students.”
Our teachers are breaking down concepts, conducting revision sessions and simplifying lessons to communicate effectively via virtual classes."