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How Inclusive Are Online Classrooms in Kerala?

Several neighborhood communities, libraries, local self-governments, etc., have come forward with setting up digital classrooms in many places including in dalit colonies and adivasi hamlets across the state. 
How Inclusive Are Online Classrooms in Kerala?

On June 1, at least 45 lakh students in Kerala started attending school after an extended summer vacation. However, amid the ongoing lockdown due to COVID-19, classes have resumed only in online format. These virtual classes are being organised by the state education department in a bid to ensure that the students do not miss out on lessons due to the COVID-19 induced lockdown.

The online sessions named ‘First Bell’ are telecast through VICTERS Channel, under the State General Education Department, for classes 1 to 12 from 8.30 AM to 5.30 PM on weekdays.

The classes were initiated with a message from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan who said the decision on online classes was taken due to the pandemic.

I wish all the students a wonderful academic session. The teachers and the parents should ensure that the children attend the online class. We have brought out some restrictions in our daily life due to the pandemic. We need to ensure social distancing. It is not possible to start normal classes in schools as it may cause spread of the virus. However, we need to carry forward the studies of our children,” Vijayan said, while beginning the classes.

The Kerala Infrastructure and Technology for Education (KITE) has brought out the timetable for conducting the classes. The sessions will be held from 8.30 AM to 5.30 PM from Monday to Friday for all classes from 1 to 12, except class 11, on the channel.

At least 45 lakh students and their parents are in front of the channel for the classes. This is not an alternative to the classroom but the education department has been providing the maximum support to the students,” state education minister C Raveendranath said.

Minister for Higher Education, K T Jaleel, launched the online class for college students with a history lecture. The time slots for different classes vary from half- an-hour to two hours, a press release issued by KITE said.

Inclusiveness of online classrooms

The newly introduced method, however, is not free from all challenges. Director of Public Instruction (DPI) K Jeevan Babu said the new method of teaching and studying is a challenge for the teachers and the students.

According to Jeevan, the department was worried about a section of students who lacked facilities for online classes and had identified over two lakh students in that category.

We have entrusted the class teachers and school headmasters or principals to make sure that students have access to a television or a smart phone or a computer, and internet for the classes. If not, they should find an alternative for the students to attend the online classes either in real time or later,” Babu said.

The department suggested alternatives including television or internet facilities of neighbours, friends staying nearby, libraries or Akshaya centres. So far, many neighborhood communities, libraries, local self-governments, etc., have come forward with setting up digital classrooms in many places including in dalit colonies and adivasi hamlets across the state. 

In many places, the students from the same locality sit together at one particular house and attend their classes. Even the local self-governments have tried to bridge the digital divide by crowd-sourcing android TVs and Wi-Fi devices and certain panchayats have even provided smart phones to those students who lack one.

Though there are many challenges for these online classes, the department said in the first week, the classes will be telecast on a trial basis and these will be repeated in the second week.

The department also informed that all the classes will be in a downloadable format and can be compiled together and shown to those who have missed the class later.The sessions on VICTERS channel will be available simultaneously on the KITE VICTERS website, mobile app, and social media pages.

The modules for different classes will be prepared by agencies under the General Education Department such as the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), KITE, Samagra Shiksha Kerala (SSK), and the State Institute of Educational Technology. KITE informed that for the first week at least 1.2 lakh laptops, over 7,000 projectors and nearly 4,545 televisions have been readied for the students.

While, Student Federation of India (SFI) has supported the online classes, they opposed the circular to reschedule the school timing from 8.30 AM to 1.30 PM. “It is natural that there are some temporary changes in the timings of classes in this pandemic situation. But the circular states that the timing will be applicable for the entire academic year and it is not acceptable for the student community. When such decisions are being taken, the interests of students should be considered, Sachin Dev, SFI state secretary, and VA Bineesh, state president, said in a statement. 

Kerala Students Union (KSU)- the student wing of Congress who has continuously been opposing all the steps of the government and education- opposed the online classes as well. 

Student kills herself for not being able to attend online class

Meanwhile, Devika, a Class 9 student from Malappuram district, killed herself on Monday, allegedly for not being able to attend the online classes.

I had told her that we can repair the TV when the classes start. Or the school will provide a tablet, or she can go and attend the classes from the home of one of the students in the neighbourhood,said Devika’s father. 

The family lived in the Mankeri dalit colony in Walanchery. On Monday morning, when she left home, parents thought that she had gone to the neighbourhood, reported Asianet News. Later by evening her dead body had been found on the premises of an abandoned house in a nearby locality. Education Minister Raveendranath has sought a report from Malappuram District Education Officer on this matter. 

(Inputs from PTI)

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