Activists in Karnataka have urged the state government to restart the Vidyagama scheme to continue the education of government school students in the state. Unlike their private school counterparts, government school students have not had regular online classes in the current academic year.
The Vidyagama scheme, a continuous learning plan devised by the Karnataka government is one in which teachers teach students in community halls and other open areas including religious places or under the shade of big trees. The classes were held twice a week from August to October before it was suspended after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among students in Ramdurg in Belagavi district.
"The Vidyagama scheme should be restarted for government school children in the school premises after sanitisation of the area. It can be an open area within the school itself," Sripad Bhat, an activist
However, it is not only COVID-19, but in addition to the worries of the pandemic, teachers and students faced a myriad of problems while trying to continue classes in community spaces.
In a few districts of Karnataka where classes were to be held in temples, they were quickly halted after pressure from upper caste groups over allowing Dalit children to enter temples.
"In few places in Raichur, there were issues raised when the Vidyagama scheme continued in a temple and Dalit teachers were barred from having classes there," says a Dalit leader from Raichur who did not want to be named.
Similar stories were reported from Ballari, Koppal, and Belagavi districts where teachers were forced to continue the education of Dalit students in colonies where Dalit residents lived. "There were also cases of menstruating girls disallowed from studying in temples," said Sripad Bhat.
Elsewhere in remote areas of Uttara Kannada and other districts, government school students are struggling to access notes sent by teachers over WhatsApp. In the absence of normal classes, notes and instructions from teachers now come via WhatsApp and in Uttara Kannada, some students are travelling long distances to access the internet.
Considering these issues, a state government official said that it will consider not having classes in temple complexes. "The state government should consider reopening schools at least for the morning session in an open area in school. They can do this in batches and ensure there is physical distancing," said Sripad Bhat.
The Karnataka High Court has now asked the state government to submit a report about restarting the Vidyagama scheme on Thursday and a decision will be taken based on the High Court's decision.