'One device at home and more than two children' is a common scenario in most houses in India. And this has become a reason for many children unable to cope up with their studies when schools went online because of the pandemic. The most difficult challenge created by the pandemic is how to adapt a system of education built around online schools which can reach students from all strata of society. Again there are many parents who are unable to pay fees. But many schools across the country are being extremely cooperative.
Nikita Tomar Mann, principal Indraprastha Global School, Noida, “Fee is an issue and the situation hasn’t changed even now. And in some cases the financial situation of the parents are really bad especially those coming from the hospitality industry, airlines etc which depend on the tourism sector to come back to life and even businessmen, restaurant owners, shop keepers- markets haven’t opened, so there is a financial crunch in most houses and they are just relying on their reserves. So we are extremely understanding of the situation.
The Covid -19 pandemic has been a big blow to education for underprivileged children. With schools closed since March 2020, there has been huge learning loss for all with parents going out of jobs, salary cuts and business shutting down.
Mann states, “We may be one of the rare schools where we have almost 200 parents who have not paid their fees for the entire last year. And we still have the children on roll. Not for a day have classes been interrupted. Only a reminder goes every quarterly to them mentioning that they have a pending payment which they need to settle as soon as things get better at their end. Even in the new session, these parents have continued with us. They are very appreciative of the fact that our school is not pressurizing them and we are still continuing with the kids’ education whether we are getting the fees or not.”
Indraprastha Global School is also inviting parents to actually come and have a conversation with the school authorities and discuss their financial conditions and how much they can actually pay. Mann adds, “There are some parents who are also paying in installments. There are many parents who have pending fees for months, but as long as they are connecting with us and explaining their issues we don’t mind. Sometimes we discuss and find a way forward. It’s not an easy ride for the parents or for the school, but somehow we are managing to keep the conversation going because we also have to pay salary to the staff which includes paying the bus drivers, even if the buses are not functioning.”
Schools have turned to online education so that the students don’t lose out on the academic year, but most of these children lack digital access to continue their studies.
Education is not a privilege it is a need and a right that everyone deserves. Vishwanth P, Hon. Secratary, Vidyavardhaka Institutions, Mysore says, “Pandemic has left many of our students in financial distress. For instance, very recently both parents of one of our students were ill due to Covid and were hospitalized. We have raised a fund of Rs. 1.25 lakhs to help the student.Vidyavardhaka Institution has started provision of the free hostel and free education till higher secondary for the students who lost both their parents to the pandemic”
Vidyavardhaka Institution also have the option of Child Education Sponsorship wherein one can adopt an education need for a kid. Vishwanth P adds, “From Vidyavardhaka Educational Trust, we have given scholarships of more than 50 lakhs during this academic year. We have helped more than 150 students with scholarships. We have given a free hostel facility for a girl child who doesn't have her parents to look after them and taking care of her entire education expenses.”
Vidyavardhaka Institution has also given devices for students who didn’t have suitable devices to attend online classes. We ordered 47 smartphones directly from the manufacturer and distributed them to the 10th standard students who were not able to afford the smartphones for classes.
Vishwanth P further adds, “We have distributed laptops from our digital library which they can use till we resume normal classes.”
Yash Tyagi, director, St. Froebel School, Paschim Vihar, Delhi, says, “We are trying our best to bridge the gap by arranging for class assignments sent via SMS. St. Froebel School has been strategically carrying out education activities for these children with existing resources.”
The biggest challenge is the digital divide faced by the underprivileged section. Especially for the children who have gone to their villages in remote areas where connectivity is a big issue. Tyagi adds, “Teachers are conducting sessions through WhatsApp groups or video calls. For those who do not have smartphones, the teachers send tasks by SMS. Hard copy learning packs have been provided to the underprivileged students. There are many families who do not have smartphones. We are running a campaign asking students teachers to donate their old or spare devices. For those with poor or no internet connectivity recorded videos of the classes conducted are sent to the children. We have posted quality content for students on our website.”
Teachers of St. Froebel School, Tyagi says are constantly in touch with both students and parents. He says, “Some parents who have informed us that their children do not have books and copies we have assured them to provide the required material.
The school is a community we help parents get beds, medicines and other support. Our teachers and alumni are also actively involved. We were not ready for a situation like this, but it came. Now we have to fight it together. We must ensure that the digital divide does not deprive have-nots of proper online education.
Mentioning how the schools are supporting underprivileged kids in providing devices, Jyothi K, Principal, The Samhita Academy, Bengaluru says, “The Shibulal Family Philanthropic Initiatives, that supports the students who belong to the economically marginalised sections of the society through the ‘Ankur program’ provided smartphones to those who did not have any system to attend online classes.”
At the Samhita Academy as an appreciation for students participating consistently in the class, data facility was also provided. Personal follow-ups were done by teachers to check on the well-being of these students and immediate as well as sustainable interventions were designed and implemented to ensure that they were supported through their struggles.
The Samhita Academy is India’s one of the few social inclusive schools where students from all strata of our society get equal and quality education. About 20 to 25 percent of the students who come from underserved communities are completely supported by the Trust. Today, The Samhita Academy has spread its wings, with schools in Bangalore and Coimbatore. They are provided after-school support programs to help them with their academic and personal growth. Jyothi adds, “They are provided additional free tuitions for reinforcement of the concepts learned in the online class. Their families are also supported with medical assistance based on the requirement along with the students. We have left no stones unturned to ensure that they receive quality education even amidst a global pandemic.”
Seth Anandram Jaipuria schools across the country firmly believe that every child, irrespective of economic status, deserves the right to education. Shikha Banerjee, Principal, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Kanpur says, “ The RTE Act and NEP 2020 envision an equitable and inclusive education for all children in India. The goals of our school are aligned with that vision. The question of waiving off the fee does not arise because the school has been providing education to many underprivileged students free of cost. Even the children who benefit from RTE Act don’t have to pay any fee to our school.”
Sony Virdi, Chairman,Mount Zion School Gangtok, Sikkim states, “Some of the parent’s Income depends upon tourism business as Sikkimese major business comprises of Tourism and small businesses like small shops, transport, private supply are most affected, parents with financial problems are approaching the management and the management has considered their request by wavering entire fee, 70%, and 50% respectively.”
Virdi further adds, “Our School has given equal opportunity to education to underprivileged children by providing them full-fledged scholarships. School is bearing the cost of educational supplies such as books, copies, and basic requirements of a child. The school has taken full responsibility of the children of non-teaching staffs of the school. The school has provided Tabs to individual students, at a minimum cost. If one wishes to he/she could opt for EMI and pay the amount in 10 easy installments.”