Pandemic takes a toll on rural education

COVID-19 Education

The shutdown of schools due to the Covid pandemic has adversely impacted the students of rural Bengal.

Students from villages do not have access to smartphones or laptops at home, leaving them at a disadvantage during online learning. They have depended solely on schools for education, but since the lockdown was imposed, they have lost touch with learning.

Belonging to the families of farmers and daily-wage earners, most of them cannot afford a tutor for home schooling.

Durba Chattopadhyay, a teacher at Sikshangan Chalksalika School, informed The Observer: “We couldn’t communicate with our students during this time.We wish to take online classes, but cannot bear the cost of Internet.”

Rural schools lack computers and 24/7 electricity to conduct online classes. The West Bengal government cannot provide any structural assistance to the schools due to lack of preparation and insufficient funds.

Parthasarathi Patra, a school inspector of Indpur block, Bankura district, said: “The government has no prior experience with such a situation, but we are monitoring the schools in order to provide them with as much study material as possible.”

Students are feeling detached from their studies, and many of them are considering dropping out of school. Ankur Dey, a class 3 student, said: “I can’t study with my friends anymore as my father is asking me to come to the fields with him.”

Parents are reluctant to send their children to schools as midday meal schemes are not available anymore. Sudharshan Das Adhikari, whose daughter is appearing for the board exams next year, said: “My daughter’s education has been hampered already; we want the school to at least arrange online classes to save the rest of the academic year.”

Some teachers of these rural schools have adopted the “camping system’’ of education. This method allows teachers to physically provide study materials to all students of a particular village once or twice a month.

“Whenever we visit a village, we make announcements on loudspeakers to bring the students together,” said Malati Rani Pandit, headmistress of Sri Sri Gyan Mandir.

While the state government is yet to announce guidelines on conducting physical classes, some private organizations are trying to alleviate the students’ distress. “We have distributed smartphones among students so that their learning doesn’t stop. But we could only supply a few,” said Saikat Gupta, CSR executive of Supertron Foundation, which works for the education of rural and underprivileged children.

With no clarity on when the government will reopen schools, rural Bengal students continue to face challenges. These tough times are putting them at a disadvantage in comparison with urban schools. They are eagerly waiting for the schools to reopen; otherwise, boys will be left with no other option but to join the labour force, and girls will be forced to get married.

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