Online classes render hollow education for all policy amid pandemic

During a survey by the Imphal Free Press, it was found that smartphones are sold above the maximum retail price during lockdown.

As COVID-19 crisis situation has affacted the education sector the most, Manipur government has made efforts to provide online education to all students so that their academic career is not affected by the prevailing pandemic. However, online education is unable to reach all students in the country, particularly in Manipur owing to the poor infrastructure setup such as poor network connectivity and erratic power supply in all parts of the state. Apart from the several problem areas in online teaching-learning process, accessibility to online classes poses a challenge, particularly to the economically backward section of the state.

“The facilities introduced for online classes during the pandemic are unavailable to most of the students belonging to economically backward families as they cannot afford to own a smartphone,” said a mother of a student who is currently pursuing seventh grade in a government school in Imphal East. The mother, a street vendor, works as the sole bread earner of the family.

Speaking to the Imphal Free Press, she said, “I also want to buy a smartphone for my son for the purpose of his education but the matter is money. Let alone the hopes of buying a smartphone, my family is struggling to earn for our daily meals”.

Seeking attention of the government, she appealed to introduce a scheme for the poor families to distribute smartphones for the students who cannot afford to buy them.

During a survey by the IFP, it was found that during the initial period of the lockdown, most of the smartphones were sold above the maximum retail price.

While interacting with a mobile phone shop owner in Imphal city, the owner claimed that the sales rate of the smart mobile phone increased twice as compared with the days before lockdown. In one of the gadget shops, a Realme phone, which MRP was Rs 8,000, was priced at 11,000.

Apart from the affordability issue, many villages, particularly in the hill districts, face the problem of mobile network signal. Students residing in such villages also do not have the facility of online classes, as it is not feasible even for the teachers to conduct online teaching in areas hit by poor net connectivity.

“We cannot oppose the online classes introduced by the government during the outbreak of pandemic COVID-19; however, the government needs to think about the students who are residing at areas where there are no mobile network and students whose parents cannot afford to buy smart phone,” said  general secretary of All Tribal Students’ Union, Manipur, Seiboi Haokip.

The general secretary of the student’s union also suggested the government to introduce a scheme for distribution of smartphones for those students and also take up steps to make mobile networks available in all the villages of Manipur.

The introduction of online education also break the set rules in most families where children are advised against using mobile phones, saying its use can cause several health hazards and hampers their education or learning process. 

“Earlier, the teachers used to insist that the smartphone must be kept away from my daughter but during this lockdown period, it is literally the opposite. Taking the opportunity, my kids started playing online games which are addictive,” said a mother of a student.

Accessibility and adaptibility to the virtual world continue to pose a big challenge not only to students, but also to teachers who are struggling to cope with the Covid situation and trying to impart the right and more concised education to the students and the parents, who are concerned about providing education to their children. Moreover, the teachers are not traiined for the virtual world of education. The education sector in the state and the country as a whole has a long way to go as online learning process has rendered hollow the nation's education for all policy during this pandemic times.

First Published:July 6, 2020, 10:23 p.m.

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