What is happening to education in thousands of small schools catering to the children of the economically weaker sections of society who cannot afford quality education for their children?
Since almost 18 months, my house help’s children have stopped going to school as one lockdown succeeded another. They study in a local Noida low-cost private school catering to the economically marginalised and the school is doing nothing to teach its children through online teaching. In fact, its owner says that he is struggling to survive and its teachers say that they are not getting paid as children are not paying their fees. Parents of such children are not paying the fees as school is yet to officially open. Many such schools have already closed down.
Even if online education had been taking place, it wouldn’t have worked – simply because there is just one smart phone that the family possesses and that is usually taken along every morning by my house help’s husband who works as a driver. The family lives with us in the room over the garage. Since 18 months, therefore, the children have been at home, running up and down our driveway the whole day, but school is certainly not happening.
On the other hand, my daughter-in-law who teaches small children at a branch of the prestigious Delhi Public School in Delhi is busy for three to four hours daily as the kids log in to their online classes and sing “Good Morning Ma’am,” in their sing-song voices every morning even as we listen in. There is much more happening in such upmarket schools. There are special school assemblies, dance steps being taught by the dance teacher, art and craft classes and even music classes, all online.
That’s not fair, right? Why should the privileged have recourse to school even during the lockdown, while people such as my house help do not have access to online education for her children? In March 2021, there was a sudden flurry of activity in her children’s school. The school rang up the parents and demanded the school fees for allowing the children to sit in for a token exam in school and for getting their result with the mandatory ‘Pass’. No one was failing, as passing all children till elementary school is anyway mandatory in schools now.
The parents got together and demanded that the fees be slashed by 50 per cent as no online classes were being held. Convenience won over commonsense, agitation and complaints. Everyone was passed and promises were made of school opening for the next term. Then the second wave struck and schools backtracked once again, especially schools for the economically weaker sections of children. They never opened for the new term beginning in June, while private, upmarket schools have their online classes in full swing.
In an article we had published in YoursPositvely last year, William Tucker, cofounder and President of Charity United, a US Public Charity working in Delhi slums, wrote:
“Due to the recent lockdown, schools have been closed for months, and will still remain shut for several months more. The answer to this so far has been online classes. While I honestly applaud this effort, does this work in the slums? Sadly, it does not. When I interviewed the children, I found that they did not have access to the internet, had no computers, or that the internet available to them was so slow that they could not stream an online class. Moreover, their homes had no electricity.”
(To read the full article, click https://yourspositively.com/in-covid-times-or-otherwise-we-can-educate-children-in-slums/)
So, what can be done? Perhaps the government needs to distribute free phones to groups of children in these slums and conduct free online education classes so that the education of these children does not suffer any more. The Education Ministry had better put this in place very quickly before more damage is done to the school system.
According to a UNICEF report on low-cost private schools where a sizeable section of India’s urban children are enrolled, these schools have been hit especially hard not just in India but in the rest of the developing world, as well for reasons already cited in the beginning of this report.
All one can hope is that God is kind, better vaccines are introduced and this pandemic comes to an end very soon. We need this to happen, otherwise, an entire generation is going to grow up without education.