When the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country, all schools opted for online classes as an immediate alternative to ensure there is no hindrance to the children’s education. While people of Vizag might have varying opinions on whether or not online classes are the way of the future, all agree that it was the need of the hour during the pandemic.
With schools set to reopen in Andhra Pradesh from 16 August, opinions are divided in Vizag on this decision. Some parents in the city believe that online classes need to continue as it is still not safe for their children to go to school. Then, there are those who believe that reopening schools is good news as education in the city will return to its old form. For them, this also comes as a relief as they were looking forward to their children interacting with their schoolmates and teachers again.
However, there is one particular section of parents who find it difficult to even have an opinion. These are the members of the lower-income groups of society for whom their children’s education is a struggle – both online or offline. For multifold reasons, online classes have been a tough pill to swallow for these people. The schools and the governments, at large, appear to be unaware of these people’s plight. From their point of view, the education system is working smoothly even during a pandemic. While it’s true that online classes are necessary, a question arises- is the existing system being fair to all the children in the country?
Yo! Vizag goes on the ground to bring forward the plight of such people in Vizag and how they have struggled to make the online classes work for their children.
Satish, a driver by profession, sheds light on how the online classes are being conducted for his children. “The school sends worksheets through WhatsApp on my phone. Since I don’t have a laptop, my children have to go through these worksheets on the phone itself. It’s becoming increasingly strainful for my children to read these worksheets on the phone. Online classes are conducted through Zoom calls where students have to press the unmute button when they have to ask any doubts to the teacher.”
There is also the case of Dora, a watchman, who shifted his two children into a government school, before the 2020 lockdown. The reason was that we could not afford the monthly fees of Rs.250 per child at a private school in his neighbourhood. However, during the lockdown, all that his children receive in the name of education are worksheets, sent by the teacher, on WhatsApp. “I had to buy a second phone so that my children’s education is not interrupted. My children are getting their worksheets, solving them on their own and I take photos of these to send back to the teacher. The teacher only gives generic remarks like ‘Like good work’ or ‘Read the worksheets’. She doesn’t point out any mistakes, make any corrections or provide any sort of guidance. It is almost as if she does not even check what has been sent.” Since his children are not learning much, Dora believes that this WhatsApp-based system is a complete waste.
For Naidu, who also works as a watchman in Vizag, online classes were completely a new thing. With his hard-earned savings, he managed to get a smartphone costing Rs 6,000 along with an internet plan of Rs 250 per month. “I have two children studying in two different classes. While my son has classes from 9 am to 12 noon, my daughter has online classes post-lunch. In our monthly budget, we have to mandatorily spend Rs 250-300 on the internet. Though we don’t regard children’s education as a burden, it is still a costly affair. On top of this, we have observed that they are getting addicted to smartphones, playing games after online classes.”
Nooka Raju works as a clerk at a Vizag company. His struggle is slightly different from Naidu’s. “We have only one smartphone which I use for work purposes. When the schools announced that children will have to take online classes, my daughter had to use my phone for her classes for a few hours. But after a while, I had to start going back to work, and then, I had to either leave my phone at home or go to work after her classes. Given the continuing pandemic situation, I had to buy a smartphone. As she wasn’t used to smartphones, she developed eye pain due to the regular usage.”
For housemaid Malleswari, whose son is studying class X in Vizag, she was apprehensive about whether her child will learn anything by taking online classes at home. “I couldn’t afford to buy another smartphone, so I gave my phone for his online classes which were usually from morning to evening at different timings. When I had to go out for work, I couldn’t carry a phone with me. Moreover, I was worried about him playing games during the breaks between online classes”, said Malleswari, a resident of Jagadamba Junction.
Rambabu is an auto-rickshaw driver in the city. He had to make an everyday schedule for managing online classes for his two children. One of his children has poor vision and now, online classes on the mobile are adding to the trouble. “It is quite a tough job to prepare children for online classes. Half of our morning schedule has to be dedicated to their classes, making sure that they have a peaceful environment at home. Though it is being said that schools will reopen next month, we haven’t been informed as yet of which classes will open first”, said Ram Babu.
Right from Satish to Rambabu, we can see that a system has been put in place for such children to get an education. But the question remains as to how effective this system is and are children actually learning anything? While the schools are reopening in Andhra Pradesh, there’s no telling when the need for online classes might return. In such a case, how are the schools planning to address these issues that are troubling the parents from lower-income groups in Vizag? After all, irrespective of the form of education, the Right To Education is common for all, isn’t it?