School education in the time of COVID is heavily dependent on mobile phones, with 80-90% of older students in Central government schools saying they use mobiles rather than laptops to access digital schooling during the pandemic, according to an official sample survey. Almost 30% said absent or intermittent electricity connections hindered their learning, and half the students said they did not even have access to their textbooks.
The survey was conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), using a sample of 18,188 students from Classes 8-12 from Kendriya Vidyalayas, Navodaya Vidyalaya Samitis and schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education. More than 16,000 parents, teachers and principals also took part.
In KVs, 84% of students used mobiles, while 19% used laptops for learning, similar to the ratio in CBSE schools. In the Navodaya Vidyalayas, which are meant for gifted students from rural areas, less than 10% of learners used laptops, while 88% were dependent on mobile phones. Less than 6% used TV or radio.
Of course, the situation is likely to be far grimmer at state-funded schools and the poorer private schools where the majority of students study. Only four States have completed mapping of the devices available to students — smartphone, basic mobile, radio, TV, personal or community computer — according to the Students’ Learning Enhancement Guidelines released by the Education Ministry on Wednesday.
Worksheets at homes
Community volunteer Shiksha teams may be drafted to deliver worksheets at students’ homes or set up peer learning groups among students without devices, it suggested.
“Unless the unique requirements of every learner are taken care of, and the same learning experiences are provided to the have-digital-device and have-not-digital-device learners, along with tracking and monitoring of each learner’s progress, the pandemic may result in the beginning of a vast learning gap/divide in such learners,” said the guidelines. The Centre directed States to develop detailed plans to reach every child and ensure continuous learning for the whole academic session, indicating that universal school reopening may not be on the cards in the immediate future.
Nine States have mapped the school-going children of migrant workers, identifying 1.29 lakh immigrant children. Five States have mapped emigrant children, identifying 1.66 lakh so far. Only seven States run some form of mobile schools.
According to the NCERT survey, most of 40% of students in CBSE schools said they found online learning difficult or burdensome, compared to 28% at NVS schools. Poor Internet connectivity and the difficulty of using mobile phones to share and access content were some of the hindrances. In fact, 27% did not have either laptops or smartphones. Half the surveyed students did not have textbook access, and 28% faced electricity problems. Paucity of devices among teachers and their unfamiliarity with the devices and online teaching methods also created roadblocks.
Students who enjoyed online learning appreciated being able to learn through their own schedule. Some said their teachers had planned interesting activities and their parents also participated in the learning process.