Online classes: Poor students in Delhi struggle due to lack of internet connections

According to the Delhi government, in private schools about nearly 10 to 15 per cent of students from the EWS do not have access to the digital medium to attend the online classes.

Published: 18th May 2020 08:32 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th May 2020 08:35 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

Kartik, a student of Class IX at a Delhi government school, has been finding it hard to attend online classes. The son of a rickshaw-puller doesn’t have a laptop and the family possesses only one smartphone, that too by his father. Since the Covid-19 lockdown was imposed March 25, Kartik’s father has been selling vegetables to make their ends meet.       

“I have to help my father sell vegetables in the day. In between the work, I download worksheets and study material from our class WhatsApp group and practice mathematics myself,” said Kartik, who stays at Beriwala Bagh in West Delhi’s Subhash Nagar area in a one-room flat with his parents and a brother.

It has been more than a month since private and government schools in the city have been providing online classes and sharing study material through various digital platforms with their students. However, many of the students have been struggling to access the classes because of poor internet connectivity and lack of devices that support such classes.  

The emergence of virtual education during the lockdown seems to have further created a ‘class division’ among the rich and the poor, especially those from the economically weaker section (EWS).

According to the Delhi government, in private schools about nearly 10 to 15 per cent of students from the EWS do not have access to the digital medium to attend the online classes. But private schools have claimed that 90 to 92 per cent of their students have access to digital platforms, and most students from the EWS managed to attend the classes.

However, the attendance of these students dropped after a few days of launching the virtual classes due to low internet data and non-availability of wi-fi connections at home, something many schools have also admitted to.

“In the beginning, I attended the online classes, but after 4-5 days, I could not log in due to internet issues. Now, I completely rely on a WhatsApp group where my teachers send study material and recorded videos for EWS students. But it is tough to study without any assistance and tuition classes,” said a student of Class X studying at a private school.

In April, the Delhi government started teaching Class XI students through YouTube. It shares live link with students through which they attend the class. However, most of the students in primary and middle schools are struggling as they have either no access to assignments or find it virtually impossible to study mathematics and many other subjects through WhatsApp or other platforms.

Ravi (name changed), studying in Class XI at another private school, said: “It is not only due to the lockdown, I feel left out even during normal days as students from the EWS are always seen differently in private schools. EWS students have to attend extra classes separately. But it got worse during the lockdown. I don’t have enough set-up and data to attend these classes.”

Feeling alienated, a Class VI student of a private school in South Delhi, said: “I wish I was at a government school. At least I would have friends as most students would come from similar family backgrounds.”EWS students studying at government schools are even more worried.  

Ranjesh, son of a carpenter, studying at Sarvodya Vidyalaya in Subhash Nagar, said: “I have an Android phone and I get my study material online, but there are many students in my class who do not even have a normal phone, forget about smartphones, to call up their teachers or friends for doubt clearing. I feel very bad for them. The government should provide them with smartphones or computers.”

Earlier this month, the Delhi High Court had asked the Centre and the AAP government to respond to a PIL seeking directions to them to provide free laptops, tablets or mobile phones to poor children so that they can access classes online during the lockdown. Delhi government standing counsel Ramesh Singh accepted the notice on behalf of the education department.

“On WhatsApp video calls, only four students can attend a class at a time. Hence, our teachers provide study material through WhatsApp or messages. They also send us links. But there is a network issue at my place,” said Anup Thakur, a student of Class X studying at a Delhi government-run boys school.
Aditi, a Class IV student of a Delhi government-aided school, misses her school, friends and teachers.
“I study for two hours alone. My sister helps me download study material and then I finish my homework,” she said.

What parents say

Shakuntala, whose two sons are enrolled in a Delhi government school, said: “I am not educated. I don’t know if there is any benefit from these virtual classes. There is only one phone in the family.”Selvi, whose daughter studies at Delhi government-aided school, asked: “How can she study online without books? Online classes can never replace classroom teaching.”“My son is very young to take online classes. It is very stressful for parents and children to sit before computer screens for 3-4 hours continuously. At least they should give children regular intervals,” complained Nitisha, whose son studies at a pre-nursery school.  

‘It increases anxiety’

Dr. Ishita Mukerji, Senior Psychologist, Kaleidoscope, a mental wellness centre (a unit of Dr. Bakshi's Healthcare), said online classes may create a sense of isolation which could be emotionally and mentally exhausting for students.“It’s challenging for children to find the motivation to get through a day of schoolwork at home because not every student’s home is conducive to learning and may not have the best environment to stay focused. Also, the increased screen-time can have adverse impacts on a child’s mental health and overall well being, as it further contributes to stress, obesity, anxiety, poor sleep and so on,” she said.  

Teachers speak  

Sant Ram, an elected member of the Delhi Government School Association in the west district, said: “The government and schools are doing best to teach and engage students, but it is hard to reach out to all students. All students do not have smartphones, many have only one phone in the family. Many students don’t come online as they are not familiar with the technology. There are many students, staying in slums, who don’t want to show their houses.” On condition of anonymity, a teacher at Shiv Vihar Government School, said: “In my area, students are already in distress following the communal clashes that took place in February. Many have lost their phones during the violence; they are so poor that they couldn’t afford another smartphone.”The teacher added that the parents of most of her students are labourers or factory workers. “We try to motivate them and many a time help them recharge their phones, but it is not possible to reach out to every student.  

Delhi government says

Shailendra Sharma, principal advisor to the director of education for the Government), has admitted that a segment of students is unable to access the online classes.According to the Delhi government, there are 1.65 lakh students enrolled in Class XI in city schools. Of them, about 1.30 lakh students of different streams have registered for the online classes.“Eleven main subjects are being taught online. Besides, classes on spoken English for personality development were given to Class X and XII, that saw the participation of around 83,000 students, out of a total of 2.70 lakh students,” said Sharma.
The government has also launched an online maths class in association with Khan Academy for Class IX students, he said. The official said the Delhi government has written to the HRD Minister and Doordarshan to telecast online classes in on the channels to make it easier for the students.
“The Centre has a channel called Swayam Prabha it telecasts teachings as per the NCERT rules. We have requested them to allot a separate time slot for us for so that our teachers could teach major subjects,” he added.


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