After the Karnataka government issued an order allowing online classes for students from Class 6 onwards, several parents lauded the move. While online learning requires technological support like smartphones, tablets or laptops, not every parent in Karnataka can afford the luxury and activists say that the move blatantly violates the fundamental right to education, as per Article 21-A of the Constitution of India.
Moreover, only those children studying in private educational institutes have online classes, while government schools have not started online courses. Parents fear that their children would be left behind, while other students continue to learn.
Sangamitra is a 37-year-old homemaker and a resident of Kalgi village in Kalaburagi district. She has two children in classes 6 and 8, who study at a private school in Gotur, which is located nearby. Sangamitra’s husband Murali, works as a mason and has a smartphone.
As the lockdown rendered him without a job, he has been working at a local grocery store as an assistant, whose job also entails running errands for his employer. Both Murali and Sangamitra have smartphones. However, for online classes, the children are able to use only their mother’s phone as Murali needs his phone to keep in touch with his employer every day, while he is at work.
“My children are attending classes on alternate days. Both of them are missing out on lessons. They complain that they can’t understand what is happening in class. The teachers have also said that we have to either buy an extra phone or laptop or they will have shortage of attendance. Getting access to the internet is also not easy and the mobile signal is very patchy here. We also end up spending a lot of money on internet recharge so my husband is working a lot more now,” Sangamitra says.
Similarly, in Chikkaballapur district’s Bashettihalli village, Praveen, a 40-year-old farmer, is facing similar issues. His daughter, who is in class 8, attends online classes at home. As his wife passed away three years ago, he is a single parent. “I have to go and work on the farm every day. I leave my phone behind. But the problem here is that on most days I have to take it with me. Especially when I am going to the bank or going to buy fertiliser. My daughter is also missing out on classes,” he says.
Sangamitra says that she initially got a data plan of Rs 219 per month, which offers 1GB data per day, assuming it would suffice. However, she said that the data gets over within two hours of usage and has now turned to topping up her internet recharge once a day. This is costing her many times more than what she had paid for the monthly pack as she now has to shell out Rs 48 per day for the internet.
“That is also not enough. For subjects like Science and Mathematics, they have to turn on the video option. That takes up more data. If it is a subject like Kannada or English, then I have advised my children to only listen to the audio. But they are finding it very hard because they say they cannot understand or pay attention,” she says. Sangamitra’s husband is the sole breadwinner of the family and currently earns Rs 10,000 per month. In addition to paying school fees, the internet bills, she says, are taking up a large chunk out of what they can afford to spend per month.
Similarly, Revathi, a 36-year-old woman, employed as a cook in Bengaluru, says that she, too, is struggling to help her children attend online classes. Revathi had to sell one of the two gold bangles she owned to buy a smartphone for her son, who is studying in class 7 at a private school in KR Puram.
“I never used smartphones. I have a small mobile which I use to make calls to my family in Ballari and also to keep in touch with my employers. I don’t even know how to use a smartphone. Although I bought the phone, we have to spend money on the internet. 1GB or 2GB per day is not enough. Downloading assignments itself takes up so much data. I have to keep recharging the data pack once in three days. I earn Rs 7000 per month and spending Rs 1000 on the internet is too expensive,” she adds.
Jayaram Satish, a farmer and RTE activist in Bashettihalli in Chikkaballapur, has a daughter in Class 7, who studies in the local government school. Jayaram said that unlike students in private schools, who have already started classes, his daughter has been left behind.
“The children who can afford phones, internet and computers are all learning. The government has not even informed us when classes will start. How will my daughter keep up with the others who have already started studying?” Jayaram asks.
Right to Education (RTE) activists that TNM spoke to said that for children from impoverished families, online learning has become a daunting task as these children are struggling to pay attention and also do their assignments.
While in rural areas, not all families can afford laptops or computers, children in private schools have been attending online classes via smartphones. But the real challenge is typing out assignments on their phones, says RTE activist Naga Simha.
“Many parents have complained about how their children take two hours to do an assignment, which could have been completed in 30 minutes generally. Schools are asking them to submit typed assignments. Typing on the computer is easier but on the phone, they make mistakes, and it takes longer for children to type as well. Besides, many of them are also complaining about their children having constant headaches and eye pain,” Naga Simha adds.
Renukamma HM, a lecturer at First Grade Government Degree College in Siddlaghatta, who is also an RTE activist, maintains that the state government has not taken into account that online learning has turned education into a luxury, when it is actually a fundamental right.
“Government schools don’t have online classes. While some children continue learning, the ones from economically weaker sections, who really need education, don’t have the same chance. This blatantly violates Article 21-A of the Constitution, which states that education is a fundamental right. The government should either come up with a plan to sort out logistical issues or stop these classes altogether,” she adds.
She further states that many children are first generation learners, which is making online learning extremely difficult. “Before the lockdown, teachers had to ensure all children were attending classes. Now that many parents do not have money to buy phones and laptops, children are just dropping out. Teachers are instructing parents to ensure that their children are learning properly. How will a parent with no education ensure this. I have two children too and I know how hard it can be for an educated person to ensure this,” Renukamma adds.