No smartphones, laptops: Kids from impoverished Bengaluru families can’t learn online

Online classes have begun at Lawrence School in Koramangala and many students have been forced to miss classes as they lack access to technology.
No smartphones, laptops: Kids from impoverished Bengaluru families can’t learn online
No smartphones, laptops: Kids from impoverished Bengaluru families can’t learn online
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Parameshwari *(name changed) is a 36-year old woman and mother of three children. For the last two weeks, she has been struggling to ensure that her children are able to attend online classes. The reason: for the three children there's only one smartphone. Her children, who attend Lawrence High School in Bengaluru’s Koramangala, started online classes on May 4. 

Parameshwari, a member of the Dalit community, lives with her family in the Rajendra Nagar Slum, and her three daughters attend classes 3, 5 and 7. But with only one smartphone, her children have been missing classes. On days she has to step outside for work, her children have not been attending classes as she must have her phone with her to coordinate her tasks for the day. 

Even on days she stays home, only one of her children can attend classes as she has only one phone. “My children attend only two classes every day as each of them need to use one phone. They have been missing out on a lot of lessons. My daughter, who is in class 7, is under a lot of stress. She cries about not being able to understand what is happening in class as she has skipped classes. It is easier for the younger ones as my oldest daughter teaches them chapters they are missing out,” Parameshwari said. 

Similarly, Sandhya * (name changed), a daily wage worker and resident of the Rajendra Nagar Slum is also struggling to ensure that her three children, who attend Lawrence High School as well,  are properly educated. Sandhya said that her husband, who is mason, has to go out for work every day and does not have a smartphone. Two years ago, her husband had gifted her a smartphone for her birthday and is the only one in the family who has internet access. While the two boys study in classes 6 and 7, the girl is in class 9. 

“One of my children attend classes every day, while the other two do not. So once in two days each of them has been attending classes. They say it is very difficult but we don’t have three phones or the money to buy it. Some of the children in the school have been able to afford it but most of those who go there are from poor families and this has become a big problem,” Sandhya added. 

Karnataka’s Primary and Secondary Education Department officials said that just like the children in Lawrence High School, several poor children including those from the Dalit community across Karnataka and especially in Bengaluru, cannot afford to attend online classes as they lack the technological amenities for it. 

The Primary and Secondary Education Department has not allowed schools to conduct online classes for LKG and UKG students, but has asked the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) to submit a feasibility report about conducting online classes for children as their attention span is very low. However, since no directions have been issued to prevent schools from conducting online lessons for higher classes, children and parents must bear the burden despite many being unable to afford it.   

Speaking to TNM, a senior official with the Primary and Secondary Education Department said that there are 1.2 crore students studying in state syllabus in Karnataka and the education department has begun collecting information on whether students have the capacity to attend online classes. “So far, we have collected information from around 50 lakh students. Our regional education officers and anganwadi workers have been collecting this information and private schools are furnishing information as well. Only 35 lakh students that we surveyed so far have the means to attend online classes,” the official said. 

He further stated that Primary and Secondary Education Minister B Suresh Kumar is slated to hold a series of meetings with schools and department officials to chalk out a plan to resume classes and if online classes have to be conducted, how to ensure that all children have the technological support to do so. 

“The poor students will be affected badly if online classes resume. If we allow schools to open, then there are many issues as well. Some schools are run out of small buildings and physical distancing will become a problem. We are in the process of finalising how to tackle this issue. On the other hand, if online classes are to be allowed, we will have to provide logistical support for the children and there is a fund crunch as well. We will announce a detailed plan shortly,” he added. 

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