Activists have repeatedly pointed out that online classes will set a bad precedent for students who are unable to attend due to lack of access.

Children in school uniform from tribal areas are joining their hands and walking together as they go to school
news Online Education Thursday, July 16, 2020 - 14:44
Vijitha, the lone member of the Thalur tribal settlement in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district to study up to Class 12, is distressed. Owing to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the young student has not had lessons for over a month now. The private school she attends has shifted to online classes, a luxury she cannot afford. 

“We are Scheduled Tribes. Everyone from my hamlet is scared of members from other castes. They will not even come out of their homes if they see them. I want to study and question them,” asserts Vijitha.
 
Unable to attend classes, the student and her friend now awaits help from those sponsoring their education to start an initiative to raise funds so she can buy a mobile phone to continue her education this year.
 
While the Tamil Nadu government is preparing to implement online and television classes for government school students, private schools across the state, like Vijitha’s, already started online classes in June.
 
Vijitha has not attended a single class as she neither has a phone nor network connectivity. The motivated student is unaware of the portions covered so far and the duration of online classes.
 
She says, “I like science, so I will definitely take a group related to science for higher education. I also want to excel in badminton. My parents are working in a tea estate so I am studying with the help of a few people in a private school. But this year, I have not started to study since I do not have a mobile phone. I am waiting for my mentor to guide me to raise funds for buying a mobile phone.”
 
Online education is a distant dream for tribal students like Vijitha due to lack of access to technology like mobile phones or network connectivity, or even uninterrupted power supply. 

Students in govt schools seek funds for phones
 

Even as the government plans to introduce online classes for state-run schools in Tamil Nadu, students from tribal villages and poor backgrounds are trying to raise funds to buy mobile phones so they can continue with classes. The government is yet to address the concerns of students who fear falling behind their peers.
 
In Kerala, while online classes and classes through the Victers TV education channel were launched in June, many students missed classes as they did not have devices or alternatives from their local panchayats.
 
A viral video of five tribal students from Kerala seeking help to buy mobile phones and textbooks has thrown light on the plight of these students.
 
“My settlement does not have electricity, mobile network or mobile phones, but we want to study. The panchayat has not helped us yet. Hence, I request each of you to help us continue our studies. Please send us mobile phones or textbooks,” says Safitha Sulfath in the video, along with four other students from the Agali panchayat in Kerala’s Palakkad district.
 
After the video went viral, the Kerala government provided them books.
 
Arya Velayudhan, another tribal student, has started a fundraising initiative with the help of the Nilgiris Wayanad Tribal Welfare Society. A Class 10 student of the Government Model Higher Secondary School in Wayanad, Arya finds it difficult to study and catch up with online classes without a mobile phone. A resident of the Bathery Taluk in Wayanad, Arya’s father even helped arrange power supply for the hamlet that otherwise does not have electricity.
 
However, the family could not afford to buy a mobile phone.
 
Arya appealed to the public to help her collect Rs 5,649 in order to buy a phone. She received help from the owner of a mobile store.
 
However, many other requests for mobile phones are still pending and the plight of students from private schools is worse, say activists.
 
“Many hamlets still do not have electricity. The teachers themselves do not have electricity, so it is chaos. We do not encourage children to buy smartphones, but Arya came forward requesting us to help her. So we tried to help her,” said Ronald Peter Ronald Goudie, project manager at the Nilgiris Wayanad Tribal Welfare Society.
 
“Smartphones are not accessible for tribal children and they need to walk to a hilly area to get signal. If that’s the case, how can they attend online classes? There are a lot of challenges involved,” he says.
 
In many cases, students from tribal areas may lose an entire academic year, activists say.
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