Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
“A house in which people don't have food to eat, who's going to go and recharge their phones so that their children can learn online?” asks social activist Aruna Roy, amid growing conversation around the use of online learning resources during the nationwide lockdown, imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Roy, who argues that the rural poor and migrant workers cannot afford internet resources and must be provided with alternate offline modes of education for their children, is among 106 academics and social activists who have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter.
The letter, sent by the Right to Education Forum on behalf of the signatories, asks the government to protect the rights of children, especially those hailing from vulnerable socio-economic backgrounds.
In this video, The Quint speaks to some of the signatories to the letter, in order to understand the steps that can and should be taken to ensure that India’s underprivileged children do not drop out of schools.
Food and Education Must go Hand in Hand
Echoing Roy, Ambarish Rai, National Convener of RTE Forum, said that in online education, a majority of students will be left outside the education system. “Students from poor economic backgrounds, Dalits, backward sections and other religious minorities will all drop out of the education system. Because the 2017-18 NSSO data says that only 10.7 percent Indians have laptops and computers. Only 23.4 percent have internet access. In rural areas, only 4 percent of the population have laptops, computers and internet access.”
The way out, according to Rai, is to combine offline modes of education with online. But education of the rural poor can only continue when they receive adequate nutrition, which has been disrupted by the lockdown. Social activist Nikhil Dey, who works in close coordination with Aruna Roy, says that along with mid-day meals, study materials must be delivered as well.
"“In a country where malnutrition among children is rampant, mid-day meals play a vital role. We will have to ensure that nutrition reaches them in an edible manner and along with it study materials should reach students as well.”" - Nikhil Dey, Social Activist
Roy, like other signatories, fears that migrant workers have not only returned home, but have also returned to the same socio-economic condition they have sought to escape from. This can have adverse effect on children, who may now drop out of schools and be drawn into child labour, worse still into the evil nexus of child trafficking that thrives on such a crisis.
Need to Track Children in Villages
In order to ensure that children don’t drop out of school, Ambarish Rai suggests that they must be tracked by authorities. He suggests that the district administration should track students, especially those accompanying migrant workers, through School Management Committees.
Similarly, former NCPCR Chief Shantha Sinha says that all students must be allowed to take admissions in the closest neighbourhood school.
"“If they are in a given village today, they should be given admission there. If they weren’t a resident of the village for the last six years, even then children should be given admission in the nearest school.During admission, transfer certificate, caste proof and other documents must not be asked for.”" - Prof Shantha Sinha, Former Chairperson, NCPCR
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