In Karnataka, the ongoing online classes for students from Classes 6 to 10 has brought out the stark contrast among students in terms of the technology required to access education. While the right to education is a fundamental right in India, only those with the capacity to purchase gadgets and have access to the internet are currently able to attend online classes. The larger question is: what happens to students from economically weaker sections, especially those studying in government schools?
Speaking to TNM, a senior official with the Department of Primary and Secondary Education said that the state government cannot afford to buy laptops or even smartphones for children in government schools to enable them to attend online classes.
â€śThat is going to take a lot of money, and currently we donâ€™t have the resources to buy laptops or smartphones and also provide free internet access to the over 70 lakh students in government schools,â€ť the official said. However, the state government is looking at airing pre-recorded classes for government school children via television.
â€śWe have conducted a survey and found that over 95% of children in Karnatakaâ€™s government schools have a television set at home. Weâ€™re thinking about airing pre-recorded classes. Weâ€™re also considering having a system where the children can call their teachers via phone and discuss any difficulties they face. This is also to ensure that the children are monitored. Weâ€™re yet to decide the logistics for this plan as we are waiting for the expert committeeâ€™s report to take further steps,â€ť the official added.
Earlier this month, the Karnataka government constituted an expert committee to study the feasibility of online learning. The committee members that TNM spoke to say that there is a lot of debate about whether online learning can match the system of classroom education. Committee members, on condition of anonymity, said that the concept of online learning violates the core normative principles of learning that are crucial for a childâ€™s well-being. They also said that the system of online education violates the right to education and constitutional provisions on education.
â€śThe Right to Education states that education should not induce fear or anxiety, or take an unfriendly approach to learning. And that education should be equal for all. That is the bottom-line, and the current situation does not favour this. Education is not just learning lessons from textbooks. Itâ€™s a process of socialisation, of teaching children how to establish relationships, develop a sense of fraternity. This cannot happen via online learning,â€ť said Dr Niranjanaradhya, Senior Fellow, Centre for Child and the Law, National Law School of India University. Dr Dr Niranjanaradhya, who is also a member of the expert committee, refused to comment on the issue in his capacity as a committee member.
Expert committee members say that the best place for learning is in the classroom as there is room for children to communicate with teachers, and also among themselves.
â€śThis is not true for online learning. Children might be more anxious and confused. Interactive learning via television can be a part of learning but it cannot be the only learning. It is the stateâ€™s responsibility to control the situation and start schools as early as possible while taking safety measures. When youâ€™re opening other establishments, why not schools?â€ť a committee member questioned.
The committee members maintained that if the government does end up pushing for online learning, then Karnataka would witness a minimum dropout rate of 30% in the next few months.
â€śMid-day meals were how we drew children to schools. How is the government going to ensure that each and every child is getting quality education via online learning? We have certain baselines that cannot be compromised. With classroom learning, they have a chance to start a normal life. We may lose a huge number of children to child labour as they may end up dropping out of school. If the government continues online learning, the dropout rate will be more than 30%,â€ť a committee member added.
Committee members state that for most children in rural Karnataka, physical distancing, even within their homes, is a luxury, and by opening up schools for learning, there could be a better chance of ensuring that these children learn in a controlled environment.
â€śBut there are also parents who fear sending their children to school and that is understandable. So far, this whole debate of online learning has centred around the urbanites. No one has bothered to understand that the concept of education itself is not just learning lessons from a textbook. As a committee of experts, weâ€™re only trying not to compromise on those ideals,â€ť another member of the expert committee added.