A total of 737 schools and 6,855 students were interviewed for the study. The government had selected two blocks from each district – those with the highest and the lowest literacy rates – for the survey. While almost 59.8% of students had access to a smartphone, only about 57% had internet connectivity.
Lack of digital skills among parents, no access to smartphones, poor internet connectivity, and inability to recharge phones are some of the reasons why nearly half the students in the state have poor or no access to online education. The findings are a part of a survey conducted by the Maharashtra State Council of Educational Research and Training (MSCERT) in association with the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) before the new academic year began on June 15.
A total of 737 schools and 6,855 students were interviewed for the study. The government had selected two blocks from each district – those with the highest and the lowest literacy rates – for the survey. While almost 59.8% of students had access to a smartphone, only about 57% had internet connectivity. Less than 1% of the total students surveyed had access to desktops and laptops.
Dinkar Patil, director, MSCERT, said, “The survey was conducted to identify the hurdles that needed to be addressed before schools could reopen online. Efforts are now being taken to reach out to students through multiple mediums. After schools reopened online, we started conducting another leg of the survey to understand how students are managing to learn over the last one month.”
The most common barrier for students who could not access online learning was the lack of digital skills among parents. Nearly 72% of the 3,391 students who had such issues, claimed this was a problem for them. Lack of access to smartphones (66.4%); no internet (52.3%); issues with connectivity (35.2%), and lack of family support (22.6%) were other major hurdles when it came to online learning. Nearly 8.5% of students were engaged in supporting their families through some type of unpaid work.
Issues concerning access were seen more in marginalised and socially-backward groups. As opposed to 59% of students from the general category who could access learning resources of the education department, only 40.5% of students from the scheduled tribes and 46.2% from the nomadic tribes could use them.
Vanita Mate, who has two children, both studying at a Mumbai-based school in Class 4 and Class 6, respectively, moved to her hometown Mangaon in Raigad district, when the lockdown began. She doesn’t have enough money to recharge her phone to call people, let alone get a data pack. “I want my children to learn but I cannot afford to pay for internet. Also, we have very poor network in our village,” she said.
Even in a metropolitan city like Mumbai, several parents said they were struggling to take care of the expenses that come with online learning. Pushpa Sharma, who works as a domestic help, said, “My son has online classes for two hours daily, and the internet pack we got is not sufficient even for a week. This is becoming a big hassle and we do not know how to afford it.”
Anagha Madhukar, the principal of Ahilyadevi Holkar Secondary School, which is run by the Pune Municipal Corporation and iTeach Schools, said that a student requires 1-1.5GB data daily for a four-hour online class. “This means a monthly investment of ₹200 to ₹250. Over the last few months, we are happy to see that a lot of parents have been able to keep aside some money for the purpose. Even children were saving for their recharges,” she said.
Balu Bhoyar, principal, Karamveer Vidyalaya in Chandrapur, said that with most students not having access to technology, the only way to continue their education is through physical classes. “We have started sending teachers to localities, where small groups of students can be taught daily. This is safe and also helps in continuous learning for such students,” he said.
Kannan Moudgalya, Erach and Meheroo Mehta Advanced Education Technology chair professor, IIT-Bombay, said that when it comes to access, one needs to understand that it is of two kinds. “It includes access to fast internet, which is required to see live videos, and slow internet, with which one can download videos and watch later. The first type of internet has limited reach, and several IIT students, too, do not have access to it, let alone school students from low-income families. For government schools, the second kind of access can be put to good use,” he said.