Some families cannot afford online education

Education National State Top Story

Only 45 percent of primary school students are able to join educational apps for online study.

Kurukshetra:  Educational apps launched by the state government are not helping primary education of children from families with low-income. 

Data by Statista Digital Market Outlook shows that currently in India, around 51 percent of the total population has access to smartphones. “Around 26 out of 48 students in my school can download the Avsar app, as they have smartphones,” said Ritu, a primary school teacher in a village school in Ambala district.

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Before the launching of the Avsar app, primary school teachers were asked to make Mitra (friends) with primary students by registering available phone numbers of their parents, friends, or neighbors on ShikshaMitr . Hence, they have a list of students with online education access. ShikshaMitr was launched by the Haryana government under Chief Minister’s Distance Education Program amid Covid-19. The scheme aimed to connect primary school students to digitize their education through the phones belonging to their parents, friends, and neighbors.

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However, even though primary school teachers have completed the ShikshaMitr registration fully, as per government’s order, it is not benefitting all the students. Ritu stated “In many cases, parents have basic phones, which can be registered on ShikshaMitr. However, apps cannot be installed on them.” 

Moreover, some parents don’t even have a phone to get themselves registered under ShikshaMitr. “We can’t afford a basic phone; how will we afford a smartphone for our child’s online education?” asked Gurpreet, mother of a fifth standard student.

Similarly, even if  some fathers of primary students have smartphones, the students cannot study because their fathers carry the smartphones to their job. This is a problem in most low-income families. Reeta, who is a parent of a third standard child, said, “My husband has a smartphone, which he carries to his job, and he doesn’t return home for several days, so my child can’t study.” The same thing happens with Muskaan, a fifth standard student; she cannot study because her father takes the smartphone and goes to work for months. Harjeet Kaur, Muskaan’s mother, said, “Without the smartphone, they don’t study, so I am sending them to tuition.” However, Muskaan said, “Our tuition teacher teaches us from the books and not from any app.”

Under ShikshaMitr, students who don’t have a smartphone can also be connected to their neighbors, but parents said nobody shares their phones in such situations. “Neighbors don’t give their phones in times of emergency; why would they share their smartphones with our children now?” Reeta asked. 

Another primary school teacher in Ambala district, on the condition of anonymity   said,“Parents who have smartphones don’t download the educational application, and we cannot force them,” 

Similarly, the Assistant Block Resource Coordinator (ABRC), Education Department, Haryana, said, “In case of primary students, the condition of  the Avsar app is not good. Primary school teachers have gone to the students’ houses amid pandemic to download the educational apps.” 

There are cases, where parents have smartphones, but strongly oppose online education. They demanded that schools be opened, instead of repeated calls to install any app. “In many cases, parents have even blocked the teacher’s number,” she added. 

Though the data received from primary teachers suggest that almost 70 percent of parents have downloaded the Avsar app, students are not able to learn anything because families in villages don’t know how to use a smartphone. “The only way to educate these children is to open schools as soon as possible, with all the precautions,” the ABRC said. 

Shanta Sharan, who runs an NGO for child education, said that online education is fragmented and poor families are not ready for it. “Instead of spending resources in launching an app, the government should use those resources to provide smartphones to poor families; otherwise, launching such apps is pointless,” she added.

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