Sangita Santosh Ambre is an eleven-year-old girl from Nanivade village in Vaibhavvadi district in Maharashtra. She has cleared class 5 from a primary school in her village. With the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government pushing for online education in the state, Sangita has been facing a number of difficulties. She managed to get a smartphone from a well-to-do person in her village. However, her village has no internet connectivity. Sangita has to walk for three kilometers daily to get a signal and download study material sent by her teachers.
“Our school is closed. The teachers keep sending question papers each week through the school peon. They also send our syllabus on mobile phones. Sometimes I need between two to three hours just to download it,” Sangita told NewsClick over the phone.
Sangita's situation is symbolic for a lot of students from the rural and semi-rural areas of Maharashtra. A lack of connectivity and smartphones are two real difficulties they’re faced with.
According to the state's primary education department, 1,61,99,490 students between classes one and twelve do not have smartphones. A total of 28,26,442 students do not have either a mobile phone or a television set. However, despite its own surveys, the state government is moving ahead with the policy.
According to numbers from the state's education department, there are 2,23,56,033 students in Maharashtra between classes one and twelve. Out of the number, 61,56,543 students have smartphones.
The number of students in class 10 at government schools is 1,12,160. The number of students in private schools operating with grants in class ten is 13,24,913, while the same number for those in private schools without grants is 3,63,791. There are a total of 1,09,942 schools in the state. A breakdown of the number of students in class 10 is important since these students will have to appear for their board examinations at the end of the educational year.
The Maharashtra government is being slammed by the opposition, MLCs from teachers’ constituencies as well as academics. Kapil Patil, MLC from Mumbai teacher's constituency demanded that the ongoing educational year be scrapped. “About 30% of the students in cities and 50% in rural areas are being deprived of an education due to the current policy. Instead of this, the year should be scrapped. Start a new year from January to December. The two major vacations in summer and Diwali should be scrapped and the two years should be clubbed into that one year,” Patil demanded.
Former education minister Ashish Shelar said that the state government should have focused on creating the infrastructure first. “It is an unplanned policy. The state government should now listen to its own data and equip the students with tools for online education. Else, it should go ahead further," said Shelar.
The current policy also lacks another important aspect of education: assessment. “Whether students are receiving the education in the right manner is also an important part of schooling. However, there is no mechanism to assess that. This needs to be done if the state government wants to measure the effectiveness of the current policy,” said a senior officer in primary education department. He added that if such a program is initiated then there “high chances” of negative findings.
A number of parents are also complaining on social media about their experiences with online education. According to them, concentration in children has become serious issue. Deep, Archana Borase son, studies in class 5 in a school in Jalgaon. According to her, the persistent problem posed by the lack of connectivity is harming his concentration. “He can't even sit for fifteen minutes at a time. There is a network issue but students at large are failing to concentrate. It needs to be engaging. Else, scrap it," said Borse.
Academics are also demanding a rethink and a redesign of the policy. “We have passed a Right to Education law. Every student has a right to get an education. What is being done at the moment is that only those who can afford a smartphone or a TV set are able to get an education. This is fundamentally against the idea of the law. The MVA should understand this and correct their mistake,” said senior educationist Dr. Hemchandra Pradhan.
The MVA government has taken the stand that it will start the educational year online; it was initially criticised and alarmed as a result. However, it still pushed ahead with the policy. The government’s own data is at odds with it and parents and academics have been critical of it. Will it listen or push on further?