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M.P. village returns to conventional mode as e-learning remains elusive for tribal students

Primary school students studying in a verandah of a house in Intkhedi village of Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh, on August 30, 2020.   | Photo Credit: A.M. Faruqui

Away from school since March, when a nationwide lockdown was imposed, 12-year-old Vijay Bheel is stuck in time and learning: he still believes Congressman Kamal Nath is in power.

The class 5 student stares wide-eyed, standing sheepishly with hands clasped behind his back amid several primary school students seated cross legged in files, as assistant teacher Neeraj Saxena attempts to fill them up with events since the COVID-19 pandemic struck: Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the new Chief Minister, Chinese troops intruded into our territory leading to a fight and floods hit more than 50 lakh people in Assam.

Also read: Coronavirus | Madhya Pradesh caught between pandemic and penury

Blank slate of zero events

Gasps waft across, the students look in amazement at one another. “Yeh sab kab hua? [When did all this happen?] It is coming from masterji, it must be true,” Mr. Bheel, struggling to keep a facemask on, tries to reconcile with five-month of lost schooling — a blank slate of zero events for students and no learning virtually.

The lockdown forced schools shut and learning outcomes of students went back by at least six months, said Mr. Saxena, who teaches 98 students at a primary school in Salegarh hamlet of Intkhedi village in Raisen district. “Allowing the unlearning to continue unabated with schools shut will mean years of effort to bring girl students to school going waste,” said Mr. Saxena.

What about the State government’s e-learning modules transmitted through smartphones, TV and radio? “Parents of just two students have smartphones, while those of 10-12 have keypad ones. There is no electricity for five-six days at a stretch sometimes, and the Internet connectivity is poor,” said Mr. Saxena, supported by guest teacher Amitabh Rathore.

Also read: Coronavirus | Madhya Pradesh to screen 8 crore people for COVID-like illnesses in July

Only option left

To bridge the digital divide and continue the learning of the 92 students from Bhil and Gond tribes and six from the other backward classes, conventional teaching in a physical form was the only option left. So, starting July, Mr. Saxena, who travels every day to the hamlet, nearly 48 km from Raisen — trudging 4.5 km along an uneven trail through a dense teak forest, a sling bag dangling on his shoulder — set up five informal study groups.

Also read: Madhya Pradesh’s online classes not reaching majority of students

Chirping in unison while reciting the Hindi alphabet, around 20 students sit in the house verandah of Kiran Bhallavi, 20, a former student of Mr. Saxena studying Bachelor of Arts, the first girl from the village to reach higher education. “Villagers believed if girls study too much, they will marry according of their own accord, even elope. For parents, girls are an asset for the dowry they bring, according to a Bhil custom. And boys are usually sent to take cattle for grazing,” said Ms. Bhallavi, teaching students on a board.

When asked, several girl students said they aspired to be like her. “If left to e-learning, which is exclusionary, their dreams will not be fulfilled,” said Mr. Saxena, who pays ₹1,000 from his ₹31,500 salary a month to four such former students-turned-mentors, including three girls.

When Mr. Saxena was posted at the school in 2009, he wanted to quit immediately. “But I held on for five years and saw change. I took examples of bright students to other parents to convince them to send their children to school,” said Mr. Saxena, picked by the Union Steel Ministry as an ambassador of change. In 2009, there were just eight girls among 30 students. Today, there are 39 among the registered 82.

Pining for the school

Seven-year-old Anshika Uikey pines for the school. “I get to meet friends, play with them in the garden,” she says, sitting in another verandah class. The attendance has dipped from 95% at the school earlier to 80% in the study groups. The pressure of online modules even forced Sitaram Diwar, 36, parent of a class 6 student, to buy a smartphone for ₹10,000 from the ₹1.2 lakh a year he makes by cultivating five acres.

Refusing to see the initiative as a failure of the online-learning programme, Rajya Siksha Kendra Commissioner Lokesh Jatav said the initiative was part of the “Humara Ghar, Humara Vidyalaya” programme which bolstered device-independent modes. “We are aware there is a limitation to online learning, yet such a success story is possible,” he said. Parents of just 25% students from Classes 1 to 8 in the State had smartphones and 50% use them for e-learning.

Further, department’s Deputy Director Ashok Pareek believed such community-level initiatives could bring about a change. “We are seeing similar examples especially in rural areas,” he said.

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Printable version | Dec 9, 2021 2:17:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/mp-village-returns-to-conventional-mode-as-e-learning-remains-elusive-for-tribal-students/article32479537.ece

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