Online learning and offline lives

Dear Editor,
The education scenario in the country is rapidly changing, thanks to the pandemic. It’s a paradigm shift. Everybody, including the teachers and the students, are getting ready for a new teaching-learning system.
Developed countries have already been using such facilities for years. Our country, as usual, took much time to enter the arena. As the pandemic is stretching its deadly hands across the country on a daily basis, the compulsory shift in the teaching-learning process has inevitably been a reality. It is impossible to discontinue the teaching-learning process. Our children are our future and their learning should not be curtailed.
As far as the pandemic is concerned, unpredictability is its strength and the new narrative of ‘living with the coronavirus’ is going to be the new normal for the society.
Many state governments have made it mandatory to open an alternative path for teaching and learning, thanks to smartphones and social media. But one thing cannot be ruled out. Can every child in this country afford to have televisions and smartphones? In the ‘new normal’, learning without such instruments will be unimaginably difficult. Many children are deprived of basic necessities like smartphones, TVs and internet connectivity in this country.
Kerala has always been on the top when it comes to education. The state with the maximum literate citizens in the country at present is having a finger-in-fire experience. The education system in the state has been appreciated for years as government schools in the state performed better than the celebrated private schools in public examinations. However, the disparity between the rich and the poor has widened in the public education system in the state. The pandemic is spreading across the landscape of the state so rampantly that the state government has failed to contain it. Millions of its citizens working in the Middle East and Europe want to return to the state. The state government, though vocal and confident in the beginning to bring back its people, went back from its promise sheepishly.
Schools in Kerala used to start their academic session on 1 June every year. But the situation being unsafe, the government decided to start online classes on 1 June itself, expecting all the students to participate in the classes.
Devika was an intelligent girl from Malappuram district of the state. She was studying in Class 9 in a government school. The girl became silent and gloomy on the day the online classes began. She complained to her father about the television in the house, which was nonfunctional and needed repair. Her father being a manual worker could not afford to repair the television with no work and money during the lockdown period.
He tried to pacify his daughter by saying that in two days he would manage to repair the television. The family did not have a smartphone to access the class. The girl was deeply disheartened and felt that she had no future in a world where televisions and smartphones have conquered the teaching-learning process. Living in her small hut-like house, she saw only darkness and a bleak future ahead. She emptied a can of kerosene on her and set herself ablaze.
Her parents, after searching for their lovely daughter, found her charred body near an abandoned building in the neighborhood.
Keeping pace with the new normal will be difficult for many. Devika was one among them. There are many poor children who are totally helpless with no access to such learning gadgets. The state government failed to know the ground reality as it is estimated that about five lakh students in the state do not have televisions or smartphones for their online learning.
Well before the beginning of the online classes, the government should have counselled the parents and students and should also have known the facilities available with poor families. The government slammed the students with online learning without adequate preparedness, and many students are not able to access it.
Every child in the country has the right to learn – it doesn’t matter if it is classroom learning or online learning. By implementing new learning systems, the government should not crush the dreams of poor children. Every child has a dream – a dream to be nurtured and cherished.
MR Lalu,
VKV, Nirjuli