For Mizoram students, it’s a struggle to ‘catch the tower’

They huddle on roads, atop trees, mounds, and structures with the best connectivity for their online classes and exams

June 27, 2021 08:28 pm | Updated 09:58 pm IST - GUWAHATI:

Catching an Internet signal in Mizoram is a matter of chance. Photo: Special Arrangement

Catching an Internet signal in Mizoram is a matter of chance. Photo: Special Arrangement

In the age of work-from-home, students in Mizoram are studying from anywhere with a signal strong enough.

They are also sharing smartphones — a rarity in rural areas where relatively good 2G connectivity makes them an “unnecessary buy” — available in the village to attend online classes or sit for exams.

Also read:In the time of online classes, Northeast waits for a faint signal from a distant tower

K. Vapaphai and 19 other college students in Mawhrei, a village in southern Mizoram’s Siaha district have taken a temporary break from trekking 5-6 km in different directions in small groups to “catch the tower” for logging on to their online classes. The reason: their undergraduate exams ended a week ago.

But for more than two months, walking up and down the hills and through jungles for classes was as good as travelling to his government college, about 70 km away in district headquarters Siaha. “We had to buy smartphones for the online classes. But buying one did not guarantee us Internet access. We had to turn a road, tree, hilltop, bridge, riverbank or any structure into our makeshift classroom to study,” he said.

If that were not enough, they had to subscribe to more than two Internet service providers because catching the signal of any of them was a matter of chance.

Connectivity is not the only issue, said Mizoram University Students’ Council president David Lalrinchhana.

“Access to electricity is an issue in many villages, as a result of which phones requiring battery charging are redundant. Also, many in the rural areas cannot afford smartphones for their children to study online,” he said.

To add to the students’ woes, road-widening and construction projects have led to the damage of optical fibre cables in many places, snapping connectivity. “We have taken up the issue with the Chief Minister and officials concerned,” Mr. Lalrinchhana, a post-graduate student of English and Mizo literature said.

He felt the University Grants Commission should have factored in poor or no connectivity to reduce or exempt fees. “There is anyway no point of making students pay the fees in full when they cannot access laboratories, library and other facilities in college or university,” he said.

Mizoram University’s Vice-Chancellor, K.R.S. Sambasiva Rao acknowledged the hardships faced by students in remote and rural areas in accessing online classes. But he also saw the silver lining.

“The determination of the students to go the extra yard for connectivity underlines their academic interest. The fellow-feeling among the Mizo community has also come to the fore with any villager — even if not related to a student — letting his or her smartphone be used for classes or exams,” he told The Hindu .

He also alluded to instances of civil society organisations such as the Young Mizo Association helping put up makeshift exam centres for the students in areas with Internet connectivity.

“We also have a learning management system, a platform for digital learning from where students can download study material whenever they are able to. There are alternative methods if students contact their teachers concerned about not getting the academic programmes online,” Mr. Rao said.

Mizoram University has about 3,000 students, of whom about 600 are from other States including Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The university’s students from these States have better access to the Internet.

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