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Broken Slates and Blank Screens: PUCL's report on Education amidst the lockdown 

A detailed report of Maharashtra’s current online classes policy, its consequent result on student’s psyche and analysis of a few government initiatives.

Sabrangindia 10 Sep 2020

PUCL

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has showcased an account of Maharashtra’s education system in its report titled ‘Broken Slates and Blank Screens: Education Under a Lockdown’. The report was released on September 9 2020 and looks at the economic strain throughout various strata of society due to the shift to virtual classes and the condition of students, teachers, universities during the pandemic.

Following the pandemic, access to Information and Communications Technology has become a prime issue. The Education Minister in a web seminar claimed that 59 percent of children studying in Mumbai’s public schools have access to smartphones while 65 percent children in private schools have access to smartphones.

However, according to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) survey, only 47.78 percent of 2,14,000 elementary students have such access. The remaining 46.74 percent access education through various online learning initiatives provided by the Centre and State government.

A survey by the Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research and Training (MSCERT) said that 66.4 percent families do not have access to smartphones, while accessibility to personal desktop and laptop is only 0.8 percent. Favoured by Court orders, schools also refuse to exempt tuition fees for the academic year 2020-2021. The PUCL report stated that about 3,400 Zilla Parishads out of the 1,04,971 State schools do not have electricity. Meanwhile, 1,060 Ashram schools of the Tribal Development Department receive erratic supply of electricity leaving most children Adivasi areas without access to ‘online’ learning.

The economic impact of this shift makes female education its first casualty among poor families. The loss of education also pushes girls towards child marriage as has been observed in Beed, Maharashtra. The perennially drought-prone Beed district reported 80 cases of child marriage. Activists filed FIRs against 16 of these cases but in the absence of such groups this trend goes unchecked. Similarly, there is no information on those people who have migrated out of the State.

Universities funded by the Central government are also facing financial crunch. As a result, institutions like the Centrally-managed Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University) at Wardha, Maharashtra dropped Urdu courses citing funds crunch although Spanish, Japanese and French courses were retained.

Although data about Maharashtra in context of the pandemic is not available, two surveys conducted by non-profit advocacy groups said that 43 lakhs students with disability may drop-out, unable to cope with online education. As per Census 2011 there are 59,392 persons with disabilities in Maharashtra – 2.63 percent of the total population – of which nearly 5 lakhs are children between the age-group of 10 to 19 years.

The government suggested four ‘distance education modes’ to address these issues. The first included fully synchronous online classes that mimic classrooms with live instructions, student participation. The second offers partially online classes that combine teacher’s live instruction and students’ off-line works. This will provide a non-interactive, passive audio-visual experience for students. The third mode consists of a completely passive intake of instruction through TV and other audio-visual mediums. The fourth mode provides only audio content though mediums like radio.

Accordingly, the Education Minister claimed that 9,99,00,000 textbooks were distributed to children enrolled in classes 1 to 10. As many as 5,73,43,000 textbooks were for students in classes 1 to 8. About 1,51,00,000 students downloaded books from Bal Bharti website.

The Tribal Development Department also provided textbooks to children and launched the ‘Unlock Learning’ app for students of Classes 11 and 12. However, activists from remote tribal areas like Chikhaldara said that textbooks are insufficient without teacher support due to language barriers. They said the children needed teachers to negotiate the texts and to create a formal set-up of school. Otherwise, students were found assisting in house-hold jobs.

The ‘Sangati’ (companion) radio programme is said to be encouraging older qualified local youth to connect with children and continue studies. It is unclear how effective these measures prove to be. The ‘youth-volunteer teacher’ model also raises concerns about a lack of understanding of the role of professional teachers as well as children’s safety.

Moreover, the pandemic-induced lockdown seems to have resulted in a sudden increase in the number of child suicide cases, raising concerns about mental health. Suicide has been identified as the third leading cause of death among young adults. As per studies, a student commits suicide every hour in India.

Specifically, the report talked about students’ fears of failing to continue education. As many as 27 percent students considered their chances of continuing their studies “low to very low” in 2020-21. This fear has been expressed by 29 per cent male and 25 per cent female students.

The percentage is almost uniform in urban and rural settings. Moreover, 73 percent of students expect that they will have to financially support their families. Students reported that a number of options will have to be considered to resolve financial constraints, including part-time jobs (51 per cent), participation in earn-and-learn schemes (18 per cent), and helping family agriculture/business on a part-time basis (9 per cent). The study showed that the primary source of internet facility for students is mobile internet with 79 percent availing online education and 91 percent using smartphones, while 32 percent have laptops or desktops and 6 percent have no device.

Similarly, teachers in non-government schools have also been coping with the stress of ‘online teaching,’ housework and addressing the needs of students. All of this goes outside office hours.

Considering the migrant exodus, the report said about 28.12 percent of children from classes 1 to 8 of BMC schools had left with their parents. 8,143 students out of 33,403 students studying in ninth and tenth standards had left. The survey estimated that about 30 percent of students would not return. Accordingly, online enrolment for 202-2021 academic year halved.

As a result, children who returned to their original States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal could miss out on the one nourishing meal provided by the Mid-Day Meal scheme. Additionally, the report stated that traffickers have already begun spotting children going back to the villages.

“We have sure shot information coming from the field that human traffickers have begun contacting and extending support to the families migrating back home so that they could use their children as bonded labour in the time to come,” said Manish Sharma of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, in the report.

He said that it is important to monitor children of unemployed families through MGNREGA registers and e-passes issued to migrant families for Shramik Special trains.

The report raised concern about the impact of screens as a source of education since it deprives children of the practical social education on class, caste, religion, diversity, justice, freedoms.

The PUCL questioned the ‘anti-national’ label given to those who opposed ICT education. Recently, the Nagpur Bench said that those who oppose the move towards ICT-based technological solutions would only be doing so with an ‘anti-national’ intent.

Within the higher education sector, institutes refrained from the renewal of government approval for 2020-2021 due to the pandemic. 179 professional colleges applied to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for campus closure across the country including 22 institutes in Maharashtra. As many as 164 new colleges have approval to function in the academic years of 2020-2021 but it is uncertain if these colleges will start this year. The COVID-19 situation has hampered the process of gaining approval for most institutes. This may result in tougher competition for available seats, adding to students’ pressure.

The report criticised the manner in which the National Education Policy 2020 was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. It said the policy’s content, timing and manner of introduction reflected a complete disregard for transparency, sidestepping democratic processes. It questioned the drafting process that was limited to the core-committee headed by Dr. Mr. Kasturirangan with close consultations to the RSS. The Cabinet Committee did not have any representation from opposition parties. Moreover, the draft was not tabled in the Parliament for wider debate.

While discussing government initiatives, the report also criticised certain government initiatives such as the State-partnership with Jio who used it as a profit-making opportunity; the omission of key chapters in the name of “reducing learning/exam load” both at the State Central-level.

 

Related:

India now has over 3.69 million Covid-19 cases

Lakhs of anganwadi workers observe ‘Lalkar Diwas’

‘We’, not ‘us’ and ‘them’

Exam failure major trigger for student suicides: NCRB

 

Broken Slates and Blank Screens: PUCL's report on Education amidst the lockdown 

A detailed report of Maharashtra’s current online classes policy, its consequent result on student’s psyche and analysis of a few government initiatives.

PUCL

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has showcased an account of Maharashtra’s education system in its report titled ‘Broken Slates and Blank Screens: Education Under a Lockdown’. The report was released on September 9 2020 and looks at the economic strain throughout various strata of society due to the shift to virtual classes and the condition of students, teachers, universities during the pandemic.

Following the pandemic, access to Information and Communications Technology has become a prime issue. The Education Minister in a web seminar claimed that 59 percent of children studying in Mumbai’s public schools have access to smartphones while 65 percent children in private schools have access to smartphones.

However, according to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) survey, only 47.78 percent of 2,14,000 elementary students have such access. The remaining 46.74 percent access education through various online learning initiatives provided by the Centre and State government.

A survey by the Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research and Training (MSCERT) said that 66.4 percent families do not have access to smartphones, while accessibility to personal desktop and laptop is only 0.8 percent. Favoured by Court orders, schools also refuse to exempt tuition fees for the academic year 2020-2021. The PUCL report stated that about 3,400 Zilla Parishads out of the 1,04,971 State schools do not have electricity. Meanwhile, 1,060 Ashram schools of the Tribal Development Department receive erratic supply of electricity leaving most children Adivasi areas without access to ‘online’ learning.

The economic impact of this shift makes female education its first casualty among poor families. The loss of education also pushes girls towards child marriage as has been observed in Beed, Maharashtra. The perennially drought-prone Beed district reported 80 cases of child marriage. Activists filed FIRs against 16 of these cases but in the absence of such groups this trend goes unchecked. Similarly, there is no information on those people who have migrated out of the State.

Universities funded by the Central government are also facing financial crunch. As a result, institutions like the Centrally-managed Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya (Mahatma Gandhi International Hindi University) at Wardha, Maharashtra dropped Urdu courses citing funds crunch although Spanish, Japanese and French courses were retained.

Although data about Maharashtra in context of the pandemic is not available, two surveys conducted by non-profit advocacy groups said that 43 lakhs students with disability may drop-out, unable to cope with online education. As per Census 2011 there are 59,392 persons with disabilities in Maharashtra – 2.63 percent of the total population – of which nearly 5 lakhs are children between the age-group of 10 to 19 years.

The government suggested four ‘distance education modes’ to address these issues. The first included fully synchronous online classes that mimic classrooms with live instructions, student participation. The second offers partially online classes that combine teacher’s live instruction and students’ off-line works. This will provide a non-interactive, passive audio-visual experience for students. The third mode consists of a completely passive intake of instruction through TV and other audio-visual mediums. The fourth mode provides only audio content though mediums like radio.

Accordingly, the Education Minister claimed that 9,99,00,000 textbooks were distributed to children enrolled in classes 1 to 10. As many as 5,73,43,000 textbooks were for students in classes 1 to 8. About 1,51,00,000 students downloaded books from Bal Bharti website.

The Tribal Development Department also provided textbooks to children and launched the ‘Unlock Learning’ app for students of Classes 11 and 12. However, activists from remote tribal areas like Chikhaldara said that textbooks are insufficient without teacher support due to language barriers. They said the children needed teachers to negotiate the texts and to create a formal set-up of school. Otherwise, students were found assisting in house-hold jobs.

The ‘Sangati’ (companion) radio programme is said to be encouraging older qualified local youth to connect with children and continue studies. It is unclear how effective these measures prove to be. The ‘youth-volunteer teacher’ model also raises concerns about a lack of understanding of the role of professional teachers as well as children’s safety.

Moreover, the pandemic-induced lockdown seems to have resulted in a sudden increase in the number of child suicide cases, raising concerns about mental health. Suicide has been identified as the third leading cause of death among young adults. As per studies, a student commits suicide every hour in India.

Specifically, the report talked about students’ fears of failing to continue education. As many as 27 percent students considered their chances of continuing their studies “low to very low” in 2020-21. This fear has been expressed by 29 per cent male and 25 per cent female students.

The percentage is almost uniform in urban and rural settings. Moreover, 73 percent of students expect that they will have to financially support their families. Students reported that a number of options will have to be considered to resolve financial constraints, including part-time jobs (51 per cent), participation in earn-and-learn schemes (18 per cent), and helping family agriculture/business on a part-time basis (9 per cent). The study showed that the primary source of internet facility for students is mobile internet with 79 percent availing online education and 91 percent using smartphones, while 32 percent have laptops or desktops and 6 percent have no device.

Similarly, teachers in non-government schools have also been coping with the stress of ‘online teaching,’ housework and addressing the needs of students. All of this goes outside office hours.

Considering the migrant exodus, the report said about 28.12 percent of children from classes 1 to 8 of BMC schools had left with their parents. 8,143 students out of 33,403 students studying in ninth and tenth standards had left. The survey estimated that about 30 percent of students would not return. Accordingly, online enrolment for 202-2021 academic year halved.

As a result, children who returned to their original States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal could miss out on the one nourishing meal provided by the Mid-Day Meal scheme. Additionally, the report stated that traffickers have already begun spotting children going back to the villages.

“We have sure shot information coming from the field that human traffickers have begun contacting and extending support to the families migrating back home so that they could use their children as bonded labour in the time to come,” said Manish Sharma of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, in the report.

He said that it is important to monitor children of unemployed families through MGNREGA registers and e-passes issued to migrant families for Shramik Special trains.

The report raised concern about the impact of screens as a source of education since it deprives children of the practical social education on class, caste, religion, diversity, justice, freedoms.

The PUCL questioned the ‘anti-national’ label given to those who opposed ICT education. Recently, the Nagpur Bench said that those who oppose the move towards ICT-based technological solutions would only be doing so with an ‘anti-national’ intent.

Within the higher education sector, institutes refrained from the renewal of government approval for 2020-2021 due to the pandemic. 179 professional colleges applied to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) for campus closure across the country including 22 institutes in Maharashtra. As many as 164 new colleges have approval to function in the academic years of 2020-2021 but it is uncertain if these colleges will start this year. The COVID-19 situation has hampered the process of gaining approval for most institutes. This may result in tougher competition for available seats, adding to students’ pressure.

The report criticised the manner in which the National Education Policy 2020 was introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. It said the policy’s content, timing and manner of introduction reflected a complete disregard for transparency, sidestepping democratic processes. It questioned the drafting process that was limited to the core-committee headed by Dr. Mr. Kasturirangan with close consultations to the RSS. The Cabinet Committee did not have any representation from opposition parties. Moreover, the draft was not tabled in the Parliament for wider debate.

While discussing government initiatives, the report also criticised certain government initiatives such as the State-partnership with Jio who used it as a profit-making opportunity; the omission of key chapters in the name of “reducing learning/exam load” both at the State Central-level.

 

Related:

India now has over 3.69 million Covid-19 cases

Lakhs of anganwadi workers observe ‘Lalkar Diwas’

‘We’, not ‘us’ and ‘them’

Exam failure major trigger for student suicides: NCRB

 

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