Poor connectivity, lack of smartphones: Online learning a challenge for teachers, students

Arnab Mitra
Hoe teachers are conducting classes during lockdown

Teachers are facing challenges in the online module. Representational image/ Getty.com

Coronavirus: The online platform may be the only way to reach students during lockdown, but the digital medium comes with its own challenges. While students and teachers living in remote areas are facing trouble due to slow internet and connectivity issues, city-dwellers too find it challenging.

Higher institutions like IITs have found that about 10 per cent of their students are not equipped to access online classroom instructions from home. A survey by IIT-Kanpur revealed that 9.3 per cent of its 2,789 students, who responded to the survey, cannot download any material sent by the institute or study online.

Priyal Gautam, a class 12 student from Indraprastha Global School, Noida remarked that it is harder to understand concepts online. "Everyday, the classes are being conducted via Zoom, for four to five hours, but a communication gap affects understanding. The videos get paused in the live feed due to server issues and by the time they resume, one has missed out on the live session. Besides, there is hardly any option to clear doubts," the student commented.

Remote areas badly hit 

The situation is worse for those from remote, non-urban areas. Highlighting India's digital divide, poor connectivity and lack of smart gadgets is proving a hassle for many students. As per a survey by online platform Local Circles, 43 per cent respondents do not possess resources which support online classes. The survey also highlights problems students face in sharing resources with parents who, as seen in many households, are also working from home.

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However, some teachers feel things can be managed over a phone call or via television and radio. "Learning cannot stop even if schools are closed. My students, who do not possess laptops, are getting connected via their phones. I have divided them in batches of five. During the teleconference, I answer students' queries for an hour," Amarjit Singh Chahal, teacher of Govt. Senior Secondary School, Ranghrial, Punjab mentioned.

According to the teacher,  a recipient of a national award in 2019, as schools are suspended, students are getting connected via online platforms - Zoom, WhatsApp, YouTube, and other social media platforms. But for students who do not possess laptops or tablets, classes are being conducted via television, radio, or phones.

Punjab's School Education Board has started an education channel and radio to complete the syllabus during lockdown. The channel number 279 telecasts live lectures and those with access to radio can tune in to 'Doaba radio'. Both these platforms have a dedicated schedule for board exam students, and the class 10, 12 students can follow the audio and virtual lessons, informed Amarjeet Singh.

 

The students from Punjab can tune in to 'Doaba radio' for lessons

At a town in West Bengal, Basirhat, a teacher -- Abdul Gaji conducts classes over phone. He used to run '10-taka' classes for the underprivileged students who aim for competitive examinations. But as the lockdown enforced from March 22 in the state, the teacher has started conducting classes over phone. The classes will be continued in this manner till the lockdown gets over.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, the teacher said, "The students are coming mostly from families of fishermen and farmers. They hardly have either smartphones or laptops access. Therefore, I conduct the classes over phones. A day before the session, I send messages to students, and through conference, a batch of students (less than 15) gets connected every day."

The classes have no fix time, and students' queries are solved over the phone. "Everyday, five to six topics were discussed, and students' doubts were cleared over the phone, and by SMS. It is basically a doubt clearance class, before the competitive examinations like JEE Main and NEET."

Competitive coaching on point

Debjit Ash, Deputy Head of the Department, (HOD) Maths, FIITJEE Kolkata said that the institute is following three modules to provide lessons to students. According to the teacher, the first module is to conduct live classes through zoom app, second is assignments via e-mail, and third one-to-one interaction. "The doubt clearance of the students are solved in the live classes and the students are also provided with some more topic-based information which can be helpful for their preparations for NEET, JEE Main. If the students failed to understand in the live classes, then they are provided a slot, when they connected with a teacher via Whatsapp," said the teacher.

Online classes conducted by Debjit Ash, Deputy HOD, Maths, FIITJEE Kolkata. Image courtesy: Screengrab/ shared

Parents struggling to match-up

For younger children, the onus lies on parents. Many primary schools are texting homework to the parents and consider it their responsibility to teach the wards. In some schools in the national capital, the online classes are continuing for a period of 4 to 5 hours regularly, which is also a cause for concern.

Delhi Parents Association President Aparajita G Gautam commented, "In schools like RD Rajpal School, Dwarka, online classes are continuing for 5 to 6 hours without break, and there are lots of complaints from parents on rising issues of mental health among children. The parents' association has advised to raise these issues with the school authority."

The online classes, according to many, are better than those conducted via social media platforms including WhatsApp. "There are some schools where teachers are sharing lessons, notes via WhatsApp, and students are hardly following the classes, as there is no one to make them understand the subjects properly," she said.

Academicians in a soup 

The issues are not just limited to students and parents, academicians too are facing challenges in conducting online classes.

Professors believe that students are getting impatient due to the challenges of the online module. "When we start a live class, most students get connected, but after a certain period, they start leaving due to poor connectivity or communication gaps," pointed out Indrasish Banerjee, Calcutta University professor.

The National Institute of Technology, (NIT) Durgapur chairperson Anupam Basu commented, "Around 70 per cent of the courses are now being conducted online. But there are areas, where there are huge network issues, and for that reason the online programmes are not that effective." He said that for those who do not possess smartphones or an internet connection, the institute is taking extra efforts.

"The students who could not participate in live classes in Zoom or other such platform, for them we are uploading notes and assignments creating a separate Google platform," the chairperson said. The subject teachers are also tried to conduct classes in their own means, via whatsapp, messenger and other digital platforms," he said.

But, according to the teacher, live classes often got disturbed due to continuous buffering and slow internet, so students mainly choose 'one-to-one' interaction via Whatsapp as there is less chance of disturbance due to lesser load.

Meenakshi Kumari, a retired Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) professor provides private tutorial to the science students. With the lockdown, the teacher is solving their queries over email. "The students mail me queries, and I reply over mail. Certain problems are better understood through pen-and-paper. So, I solve their queries and revert through email with screenshots," she shared.

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Students participating in live classes. Image courtesy: Screengrab/ shared

Speaking to indianexpress.com, the teacher remarked, "The students are from underprivileged backgrounds and their parents are mostly fishermen and farmers. They have hardly access to either smartphones or laptops, and the classes are conducted over phone. A day before the session, I send messages to students, and through a conference call, a batch of students -- about 15 -- get connected everyday."

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The classes have no fixed time and students' queries are solved over the phone. "Everyday, five to six topics are discussed and students' doubts cleared over the phone, and by SMS. It is basically a session to clear doubts, before competitive examinations like JEE Main and NEET."