Is digital Schooling Failing?

Kakali Das

There are research reports coming out about how this entire digital schooling formula, whether it’s working or not, the kind of pressure it has put on the parents, teachers and the students is immense. One of the reports by Oxfam reads, “Over 80% parents in 5 States say Digital Schooling failed during Lockdown”. In Bihar, 100% of the parents who answered the survey said that the entire process was a failure. In the states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, apparently, when the survey was conducted only 15% of the rural households had access to internet; others either didn’t have access to internet ora smart phone, and in many cases even the teachers didn’t have access to a digital device in which they could teach the children. In the government schools, too, the survey has found out that many students didn’t get their mid-day meals (for many children across the entire country the mid-day meal is their only real meal for the day). In private schools, despite the government’s putting out notes, 39% of the parents in these schools said that there had been fee hikes and that they were asked to pay those fees during the lockdown period, a time when people have lost their jobs or received pay cuts.

Even though the students aren’t using the school campus, the cleaning facilities, the playground, the laboratories, libraries or the school transportation, yet the parents are forced to pay the full fees as issued by the schools. “The school in which my child goes in, few of my colleagues and I have been fighting against it for various issues going on in the school, basically, the illegal fee hikes in the last 5 to 6 years now and not disclosing the numbers to the PTA members. We requested the school that we would pay 50% of the total fees since our children aren’t using any of the facilities, but the administration didn’t agree with what we said. On the contrary, the school administration locked the log-in passwords through which the students could enter and sit for their online classes of the selected few children whose parents went against them. Now our children are neither able to take online classes nor their unit test exam which will begin from the next week”, a father said.

There are two types of educationist today – one who are commercialists (comprises of around 80% in today’s time), and the other who are genuinely concerned about education, who are really passionate and want to build up the future of the nation. It can’t ever be justified as to why they have hiked the fees or forced the people to pay the same amount. We are still living in that conditioned lifestyle; we accept whatever is forced on to us. A handful of people, literally, acknowledge the fact that education should be made mandatory and free and should be in the concurrent list. Why do we even have the “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act” or “Right to Education Act” which describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between the age of 6 to 14 years in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution? In an unaided system it is exorbitant and beyond reason to ask for full fees when the entire world is struggling for its survival.

“Education has become a money making racket. I would suggest the schools to atleast reduce the amount or provide some discount. No parents are against the payment of the fees. Everybody is ready to pay the fees provided the school administrations accept their conditions. There are so many of them who have lost their jobs, facing pay cuts, yet they are willing to pay half the fees that’s required. I condemn such schools, principals or any so-called educationist who are keen on making money even amidst this crisis”, Sherly Paul, Principal, Sheth Madhavdas Amersey High School, Mumbai said.

“We have heard students saying that half the time their eyes hurt, they can’t see what the teachers are showing with the help of the digital devices properly either due to the students’ failing internet connection or the teachers’. I hardly think that the digital schooling has actually made any progress. We have an ecosystem that’s useless. Most of the students of my school comes from the underprivileged background. I have been taking 10% of what the actual fees structure is. The students have been begging and borrowing the android cell phones to sit in the class and that isn’t justified. Moreover, mid-day meal isn’t reaching, people aren’t getting rations in time and then you force the children to sit for their classes in time. Every child is having strain in the eyes for sitting in front of cell phones or laptops throughout the day. Even after the guidelines by the government stating the limited amount of screen exposure of the children, nobody has been seen following it. I have made a strict time schedule for the students; according to my routine, the during of a class is for 30minutes sharp, after that there is a leisure period for 20 minutes prior to the class next. If we look at it, the digital learning system isn’t properly planned; there are net issues most of the time. Digital platform will not be a sustainable source of education at all. If we stick only to this system the positive impact will merely be on the IQ level, but the EQ will be totally ignored. The emotional bonding will be completely lost”, Sherly Paul further said.

What this digital education system has done is – on the one hand, those of our children who have access to Wifi, to devices have their eyes hurting and trouble concentrating;on the other hand, there are others who have been left out in the dark since they have no devices, no proper internet connection to be a part of this new system. 80% teachers have reported facing challenges in delivering education digitally. Half of the teachers faced issues related to expensive data packs and slow internet. Two out of every five teachers lack the necessary devices to deliver education digitally. 80% and 67% teachers lack the requisite devices to deliver education in Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh respectively. Schools, teachers need to think of ways to minimise the plights of the students, navigate them in this crisis. The children hardly can express themselves but their inner conflicts come to light in different ways; it’s a time for building relationships, meeting people, especially for the adolescents and we have made them sit in front of these machines while expecting them to be resilient and be masters in everything. Besides, as more people lose jobs we will have children from poorer families sent to work instead of sending them back to schools since they seldom have access to education anyway. We have actually increased the gap between the rich and the poor. Interests need to be shown in regulating the problems by the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools aren’t over charging, that there is a rationale to the fees that have been paid, some regulations on the number of hours the children are studying for and how many breaks they get and what sort of exercise shifts they have, may be in the midst of these sessions as well. Fundamentally, all of the pressures right now is on parents and teachers who are trying very hard to make this work one way or the other; there needs to be more support from the adminstrations of schools including the state and central governments.

**মহাবাহু**

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