A school teacher gives a live streaming online class at a government school after the government eased a nationwide lockdown

It’s been around four months since private and government schools in the state started online classes and began sharing study material through various digital platforms with their students. However, a bulk of students coming from economically weak families is struggling to get access to it.

As many as 50% of the 1.8 crore students enrolled in government-run primary and upper primary schools spread across 75 districts of UP are yet to access the online content made available during this pandemic hit academic year, reveals information available with the state education department.

A recent survey undertaken in 65 districts by the department involving 4,348 students has established that despite all efforts just 50% of them were able to access the online content, informed a senior official of the department.

The survey revealed that half of the total students were unable to access the content due to poor Net connectivity, lack of appropriate devices like smart phones or even presence of a lone smart phone in home that was needed for other purposes, the official said.

“Efforts are being made to reach even those students who are unable to access the rich and wide academic digital content made available through various mediums like YouTube, Diksha e-learning portal and WhatsApp groups among others. We are trying to work out a system of teachers providing worksheets to such left out students to involve them in the learning process,” says Vijay Kiran Anand, director general (school education) and state project director of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan.

He said besides 1.5 lakh WhatsApp groups for students and another 880 groups of BEOs active at development block level, academic content for different classes were being provided to students through different mediums and the exercise was being monitored at the state level.

“We are also providing content everyday through Akashwani and Doordarshan as well,” he added.

However, despite these efforts, lakhs of students are still unreached in the state.

In Prayagraj, over 2 lakh out of 4.16 lakh students enrolled in government 2477 government-run primary and 1001 upper primary schools are yet to access online education, says Vinod Mishra, district coordinator (training) of Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan.

A key reason for this is believed to the digital divide that exists in the state.

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)-2018 showed that 91.7% families in rural UP had mobile phones but out of these, mere 32.6% had smart phones and internet access. The study was carried out among 600 families each in 70 districts in rural UP.

Not much changed a year later. The 2019 ASER which covered two districts from UP—Lucknow and Varanasi—showed 94.7% families had mobile phones, but only 48% had smart phones in the state capital. In Varanasi, of the 97% families who were covered under the study, 56% had smart phones. Remaining 41% had regular phones without internet facility. The report covered 1,200 rural families in both the districts. Television was, however, available at 61.5% and 71% households in Lucknow and Varanasi respectively.

A Case Study

Parents with meager incomes are struggling to ensure that their kids do not miss out on the academic digital content made available by the state education department. Take example of Nirma Devi, a class 4 employee earning mere Rs 2500 per month. Residing on the campus of Raj Narayan Inter College in Bahariya development block of Prayagraj where she is also employed, Nirma Devi’s husband Krishna Murari Mishra is unemployed and she supports her family that includes her three kids. Her eldest kid Prateek Mishra is a class 7 student of government-run upper primary school at nearby Berui village.

A selfie of his family taken by Prateek using his new smart phone.

“When online teaching started on April 10, Prateek was accessing it using our simple mobile phone at home. However, one day in mid-June it broke and he was no longer able to access it,” she shared.

“As he is a bright student, I did not want him to miss out on his studies. So after a month, I used Rs 500 per month that I received in my Jandhan bank account for March, April and May 2020 each and made a down payment of Rs 2000 using Rs 500 that I had saved to buy a smart phone worth Rs 7000 in July. The remaining Rs 5000 I will pay through a monthly installment of Rs 1000 to the shopkeeper,” said Nirma Devi.

Prateek’s science teacher Durgawati Mishra confirmed that when Prateek stopped accessing the online content, she contacted her parents and requested that they arrange for a mobile so that Prateek could join his classmates online for the studies.

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