A year of education lapse, thanks to digital divide

Bangalore Capstone City COVID-19 Education Pandemic Technology

With limited or no means to continue their learning, slum children skip a year’s education.    

The pandemic highlights how digital divide could halt education, the most basic necessity of Bangalore’s slums’ upgrading. The schools have remained shut due to the onset of the pandemic. They were shut until December 2020, when the Karnataka government launched ‘Vidyagama scheme’ under which children could attend classes under their parents’ consent. However, the program included classes held on alternate days with a relaxed schedule and timings.

“School is closed, they have given holidays,” said Gokul, who studies in a government school.

Even after the launch of the scheme, the turnout of children was negligible and until now, there has been no clarity or data stating the actual number of children who continued their education under the project. Children from Siddapura slum, studying in government schools claimed that their schools remained closed until February 2020, and many of them were still not attending classes. Dravya and Charan who reside in the same slum, studying in upper-primary classes, said they had recently started going to their schools when the onsite classes began in February 2021. Until then, they had been missing out on their education since their schools were shut.

Gurumurthy Kasinathan, educationist and founder of IT for change said, “Vidyagama scheme was not held in every school, it was a voluntary program. Even in the schools where it was held, children might have faced transport issues, as there were not buses or any other public transport available.”

“Even mid-day meals were not provided during this program. Their families were provided with dry ration, adequacy or periodicity of which might be inconsistent,” he added.

Other children, who read in schools conducting online classes, were also deprived of education due to unavailability of basic necessities important for digital mode of learning, including devices like smartphones or laptops, high speed internet connection, furniture and even a learning space and atmosphere around them.

Some of them managed to attend online classes due to one available device in the family. However, they too compromised considerably on education due to limited accessibility and clashing schedules. Pallavi, a class sixth student who stays in Siddapura slum said, “I attend my online classes since the pandemic started. I have a brother and we share the device in order to manage our classes.”

Social distancing: pleasure of the rich

Pandemic’s adverse impact on education

Schools had been shut in order to curb the spread of the virus due to physical contact and close interaction. “But, at the same time, I see these children play in the compound all day. They don’t have anything else to do, they can’t study themselves. They don’t know what precautions are; they don’t know what distancing means,” said Shobha, a resident in Ragigudda slum and mother of two.

“Do you see any one of them wearing a mask?” she asked.

Ragigudda slum has pre-existing sanitation and drainage problems. A foul-smelling narrow passage, only wide enough for one person to pass at a time, leads to their toilets which are used by many. The living space is congested with multiple families living together, barely separated.

Children playing in ‘holidays’
Credits: Author

Social distancing is nothing more than a theory for the slum residents. It is an extravagance, an option for the rich and the privileged. It is something these people can’t afford, especially at the expense of their living. 

Here’s what the stats reveal

Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020 (Rural) reflects that in Karnataka, 19 percent of children under the age of five years had not enrolled in any educational institute against 8.9 percent in 2018.

Enrollment in pre-primary schools, on the other hand, dropped from 29 percent in 2018 to 25 percent in 2020. Percentage of children enrolled in other schools regressed to 56 percent in 2020 from 61.8 percent in 2018.

According to a report released by the United Nations Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF), only 8.5 percent students in India have access to the Internet.

To top it all: job loss and unemployment

“There is no earning head in the family. Children have not been studying since the pandemic, but with all earning members sitting at home, how do we even eat?” asked Shanta maa, who shares a shanty with 15 occupants in Shashidapuram slum.

Unemployment and job loss- plight of slum dwellers

The conditions in the slum were even worse. A narrow passage, with rooms on one side and washing area in the passage itself, is shared by many families. Women in the slum, who were mostly working as house helps, had not been working since the pandemic until lately in February, when they were again called for work. Additionally, their partners too were refrained from going to their respective workplaces until lately.

The children again, had not been attending their schools and wandering around all day without any regard with the pandemic. None of them wore masks even outside their houses. Many of them weren’t even fully clothed.

“We can’t provide our children with these facilities required for their education in private schools. Apart from that, we can’t even afford paying their fees after the circumstances we faced during all these months. Be the school Government or private, the situation is same, education has completely paused over these months. Many of us have also gone through situations of unemployment or low wages due to the pandemic,” said Shobha. 

Some of these slum dwellers were lucky enough to keep their children’s education go uninterrupted all the way through the pandemic. Murthi, a mechanic in VV Giri slum, couldn’t earn even a comparable amount to his pre-pandemic earnings. However, he was still happy since his daughter got admission in a special quota after passing an exam in a private school due to which, her education was free.

The struggle to sustain a living amid Covid19 pandemic

Anandi, a worker in Aanganwadi, was given her monthly salary even after the pandemic hit. Her husband, a painter by profession, had lost his job and was barely even earning. She was grateful that she could manage to get along with her family expenses and her son’s education in a private school.

Officials’ version

The Karnataka slum development board assistant director Shankar Pujari said, “For fulfilling their dietary needs, we have been providing the slums with milk provisions and monthly food kits too.”

Adding to the matter of the long education lapse of slum children, he said, “Education loss should be undoubtedly considered, it is a vital part for the country’s growth. But, our department has no say in it.”

SRS Nadhan, special officer and ex-officio undersecretary to government of education said that the education department had no stats with respect to the number of children who attended school during the pandemic and under the government-launched Vidyagama scheme.

“Vidyagama has been held only for a part of the year. The point of children deprived of education for a whole year is a very important conclusion to work upon. Even in private schools, only few might be holding online classes. In contrast, online education was hardly or rarely there in Government schools,” said educationist Gurumurthy.

A look at the numbers

The 2011 census reveals 18.58 per cent of the city’s urban population accounts for the slum dwellers in the city. However, according to a 2015 survey, there are 2000 (notified and non-notified) slums in Bangalore and the population residing in these slums accounts for as large as 25-35 per cent of the city’s population.

A foreseeable future?

Online, or offline mode of education cannot tackle the situation efficiently alone. Offline education cannot be ruled out since many children might not have facilities for online classes whereas online education is the need of the hour. However, the solution has to consider every problem.

Gurumurthy said, “We, at IT for change, have been organizing online classes every evening for 8th, 9th, 10th standards since August, 2020. Children from 13-15 govt. schools attend these classes and government school teachers have been trained for holding these classes. The average turnout varied from 30-50 children in each class.”

However, the initiative so far covered only 5-10 percent of government schools in Bangalore. But with this effort and demonstration, he aims to train all government schools to implement such education system to tackle the education lapse.

“After working upon certain strategies for the coming year, we can refer it to the government to be executed in a planned and structured manner. As of now, Offline and online education combined together, can be used to figure out a solution to this problem,” added Gurumurthy.

“Giving up is unfair and inequitable. Nobody can be abandoned. Something is better than nothing,” he said.


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