Distorted education due to forced online classes, even as a large section of children are unable to avail the basic infrastructure to attend classes in this mode, is threatening an entire generation of children in an unprecedented manner. Online classes may be a convenience in the face of the pandemic to prevent the spread of infection while trying to pursue education digitally, but the distracted manner of learning can have an adverse impact on children.
Take the instance of eight-year-old Prakash, a Class 2 student at a prominent Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) school in Mangaluru. An entire year of disturbed education has affected his learning capabilities. The result is that this English medium student not just finds it difficult to write alphabets in Kannada or Hindi, but in English too. Although his parents have started sending him for private tuitions closer home, the tuition teacher says she can’t teach him Class 2 lessons unless he learns alphabets and other basics.
“Every morning, we get over a dozen pre-recorded videos and audio clips on a dedicated WhatsApp group of the school. We don’t know when he will learn all of that,” says his worried mother. While this is the case of a child from a better off family, imagine the plight of those from unprivileged sections without access to online tools or connectivity to pursue classes to keep up with the expected academic levels.
Not just children, even senior students are equally miffed. Pouring out her woes, BCom second-year student Aishwarya, who has gone back to her native Kalavase in Chikkamagalur district following closure of colleges and hostels, said her village is 40 km away from the city. “The BSNL network is accessible if we travel 7 km and sometimes, it plays hide and seek.
We have to wait for hours. Even if the network is accessible, I have to attend classes sitting by the roadside. It has never been possible to attend classes without disturbance and distractions. I face a lot of academic problems,” she says.
Karthik, a student from Kalasa in Mudigere, also in Chikkamagalur district, says it is difficult to listen to online classes as the network is poor. “Because of my inability to attend online classes, I am not getting attendance. Nor have I been satisfied with the classes,” he says. “The overall loss of learning — loss of what children learned in the previous class as well as the lack of opportunity to learn in the present class is likely to be compounded if nothing is done to compensate for it,” says senior academician Sangeeta Kattimani.
The Unified District Information on School Education (UDISE) report-2019-20 (part-pandemic year), says enrolment and physical infrastructure had steadily improved in the state, but a vast majority of schools in Karnataka, mainly government schools, did not possess the means or the method to shift to digital education swiftly. Digital learning was smoother in private schools in the state, but government schools were unable to take that digital leap seamlessly.
As per the report, only 48.37 per cent of schools across the state had computers, of which only 46.34 per cent had a functional computer facility. Only 24.65 per cent of the schools in Karnataka had internet connectivity; this was as low as 7.75 per cent among government schools.
A significant part of the child population was unable to access remote digital learning. Moreover, unstable internet and poor broadband connectivity in rural areas impacted digital learning opportunities.
After the pandemic led to school closure, students paid a heavy price in lost learning, especially in maths and languages, according to surveys.
A year into the online classes era — in June this year — the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) conducted a survey based on the Karnataka High Court directives to check how many school students (Classes 1-10) were able to access gadgets for online classes. Almost 93,01,805 students of a total of 1,05,09,367 admitted to schools in the 2020-21 academic year, were surveyed. The study concluded that 31,27,524 children had no access to any digital devices to avail online classes, notwithstanding the fact that their schools were better equipped for digital learning.
The indirect effects of the pandemic has worsened nutritional security of children through disrupted mid-day meals and Anganwadi services, intensifying the burden of malnutrition among children, putting the very concept of education at risk. Kattimani says many students are dealing with added trauma and behavioural changes — mainly anger, lack of concentration and stunted social development. In Hassan, over 50 per cent of students from Classes 1 to 12 failed to get complete education, with the pandemic affecting the education system.
Experts as well as parents have reported that online classes have evoked a fairly poor response from parents as children, who are able to access internet, orient themselves towards games and pornography when unsupervised. Many children reportedly developed eyesight problems and headaches from long screen hours or staring at cell phone screens.
K Narahari, a retired government college principal in Hassan, says the pandemic has not only destroyed the entire education system, but also the sanctity of education.
“Many intelligent students have lost interest in education as they failed to achieve their goals as planned. The number of dropouts may increase among the average students as they completely lose interest in studies. They may start searching for jobs due to their family’s financial situation, while the poorer students are happier with online classes as they are getting cell phones for games and chats,” he says.
A senior doctor from Dharwad Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (DIMHANS) says offline classes or direct teaching helps students understand lessons in an effective way. If the student doesn’t understand something, the teacher directly comes to help. But online education is not as effective.
“The government should take massive measures to control the pandemic and vaccinate all students as early as possible. If schools are reopened, it will help students, parents and prevent child labour, child marriage and improve mental and physical health,” he says.
EFFORTS TOWARDS CORRECTION
The lack of internet connectivity has forced students of Kattinakaru and Karani villages in Sagar taluk of Shivamogga district to form an association called ‘Kattinakaru Karani Network Horata Samiti’ and threatened to boycott the taluk and zilla panchayat elections if their demand for good connectivity is not met.
Prakash Anchan, president, Sarakari Shale Ulisi Belesi Rajya Samiti, a forum for government schools, says government schools are the worst-hit by the pandemic. “Online education and Vidyagama hardly helped government school kids, especially in rural areas due to reasons like parents’ inability to get smart phones, network and power issues, etc,” he says.
(With inputs from Vincent D’Souza, Pearl Maria D’Souza, Marx Tejaswi, Udaya Kumar BR, Prajna GR, Raghu Koppar, Ramkrishna Badseshi, Devaraja Hirehalli and Arunkumar Huralimath)
PROBLEM IN KODAGU
Proper mobile network – even uninterrupted 2G network, is an unaffordable luxury to rural residents of Kodagu. Hundreds of rural students across the district are denied online education due to non-availability of proper network.
While BSNL is the main network provider in the district, the downfall of the telecom company has hurt the education of several rural students in the district. Rural students across South Kodagu were spotted climbing trees to access uninterrupted internet connection. A school teacher in Somwarpet taluk even built a tree house for students to access internet connection. Representatives in the district seem unconcerned about the growing network issue.