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With lack of smartphones, laptops tribal students to miss out another year of online classes

Even after one year, most students in settlements in forest areas still don’t have smartphones or laptops. TNIE looks into their experience of virtual classes

Published: 02nd June 2021 05:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd June 2021 05:24 AM   |  A+A-

Children at Podiyam, a tribal settlement in Kottoor are bound to miss out on another year of lessons. They cannot afford smartphones neither do they have decent internet connectivity | Vincent P

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A new academic year has begun and this year too, classes are being held online through KITE Victers channel and other virtual platforms. But for Kiran Sanal, a Class X student at Government Model VHSS, Vellanad, who lives in the tribal settlement of Melehamla situated about 20km from Kottoor, there is no excitement of a new academic year. It is just another year when Kiran will be missing out on his online classes due to the lack of a smartphone or laptop.

Kiran says, “ As my house is inside the forest and far away from the school, I used to stay at the Boys Home in Vellanad when I had classes. During holidays, I used to come to my settlement. However, ever since the pandemic began and schools closed with learning shifting to online platforms, we were sent back to our settlements. Neither of my parents own a smartphone and for the past one year, I haven’t been able to attend online classes.”

There are many students like Kiran staying in the tribal settlements in the Agasthyarkoodam forest range and Kottoor who stay at various hostels to continue their studies since the schools are situated far from their homes. While the nearest upper primary school is situated at Kottoor, 12km from Podiyam, a tribal settlement, the high school and higher secondary school are situated at Utharamkode and Kuttichal, which are 17km and 20km, respectively, from their settlements. Though the online classes started one year ago, many students in tribal settlements are struggling to attend online classes as they have no access to facilities such as smartphones or laptops.

Tribal children hard hit, reveals survey
In a recent survey conducted by Kanal Innovations, an NGO, on the impact of the pandemic on learning, it was found that the students in tribal areas were able to attend only less than an hour of online classes due to lack of mobile phone connectivity and other issues such as power outage.

“Nearly 30 students from the tribal settlements in Kottor, Amboori and other nearby settlements in the district took part in the survey. While the survey revealed that five children were forced to use just one phone to attend classes, others had to miss live streaming of classes due to lack of proper internet connectivity in the area. There are already many dropouts as parents prefer to retain their children at home owing to lack of transportation modes. If facilities for online classes are not provided, it will lead to more dropouts,” said Anson P D Alexander, director, Kanal Innovations.

Covid spread thwarts other option
Kuttichal grama panchayat president G Manikanthan says, “ In the 27 tribal settlements in the panchayat, there are about 200 school students. Since the people in the tribal settlements don’t have facilities such as phones or laptops, we had arranged television sets at various employment guidance centres last year through which some students were able to attend online classes.

However, this year, it is difficult to bring the children to the centres since the number of Covid patients in tribal settlements has increased.”Last year, forest department officials had also stepped forward to help the tribal children from the Kottoor section who were facing difficulties in attending online classes. “We were able to arrange computers and television sets at the Employment Guidance Centre of the Kottoor forest office where nearly 75 students could attend the online classes. This year, we were planning to arrange the facility but due to Covid-19 threat, we haven’t been able to do it yet,” said K C Sinukumar, section forest officer, Kottoor.

 DOUBLE THE PROBLEM

Tribal tudents cannot be allowed to watch online classes on TV sets arranged at employment guidance centres of forest departments because of spread of Covid cases among tribals
In a recent survey conducted by Kanal Innovations, an NGO, on the impact of the pandemic on learning, it was found that the students in tribal areas were able to attend only less than an hour of online classes due to lack of mobile phone connectivity and other issues such as power outage



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