Do you really think online classes work? If they work, for whom? Are they for the privilege ones or those who know that digital access is a fundamental right, but still can’t get it? If you are really interested in knowing this issue, I have both experiences — of the privileged one as well as the underprivileged, common one.
The experience of commoners is more repressive here. Many students are being prevented from getting an education due to digital inaccessibility even after securing admission in a prestigious educational institute. Everyone around them would whisper, “Oh, they got admission in that well-known university. Now, they will get the best education?” But can one avail the best education only after getting and admission in that university? Here is the reality.
I am a Mass Media student in JMI and I live in Delhi. Online classes are being held smoothly. I was also attending these classes continuously. I had full access to internet throughout this time because I have a wifi device installed. My schedule in those times was: attend classes, then understand the topic or relevant key words by searching them on Google or YouTube for further clarification or better understanding. Although I didn’t understand everything I found, but yeah, it helped me to know the topic a little bit more to discuss it with classmates or my teacher (sometimes). How good it is, isn’t it?
Currently, I am living in my village, remotely located somewhere in Bihar. I am trying to attend my classes from here. Yeah, trying! Once I join the classes, there is always a network problem — it is hard to connect and if it gets connected, the connection is too poor to even have a conversation. It gets frustrating. Our teacher recently started a new topic called ‘Informal Economy’ and I am not even able to attend the class properly nor am I able to search it on Google/YouTube for help. And the reason is poor/no internet connection.
In this corona period, a majority of the students have access to the internet through a Jio Reliance connection. One of my friends said, “They give us limited data, 1.5 GB or 2GB. This limited data is being used by us to attend classes. I have seven classes, 50 minutes each. So, after the data gets used, I have no other option to go through the topics I didn’t understand during the class.”
A week ago, when I was in Delhi, I was talking to my friend who did not have internet access. After our class, when I asked him to read up on these topics from a video or e-book, he said, “Yaar net hi khatam ho gya hai, kya hoga hum sabka (My data pack is over. What will be our fate)?”
It is not just a matter of the data being consumed in a day, we need to actually find a specific spot where the internet can work. I always have to find a place where I can get the internet to work for me. I move around from spot to spot in my own house, and sometimes my neighbour’s: “Is it here? Not here, okay. I might get it on the roof. No? Maybe in a specific spot in the room. Near the almirah? Yeah, it’s working! Wait, it is running at a speed of 10 kbps.”
A friend of mine said,
“First of all, there’s always the internet connectivity problem, then, we have to stare at our phones for 7-8 hours. The reading material we get from our teachers for further study is on Google Classroom and in the PDF format. So, after 7-8 hours of online classes, we again have to look into our phones to go through our study material. If we want to go to the market to buy the book provided to us by our teacher, we can’t because of the lockdown. Those who live in villages face yet another problem even if the lockdown opens up. The book shop is often far away from the village and there is no assurance of finding the book there.”
Another problem one of my friends encountered while studying on the phone is having to listen to his parents say, “Hey, what are you doing on the phone for that long?” When he said that he is attending his class, his parents said, “Oh, do you think we are fools? Two to three hours of online classes is fine. Who takes 7-8 hours of classes on the phone?” He mentioned that after the classes get over, he has to study on the phone. His parents just scolded him and said, “Now we know that you are up to doing something wrong on the phone.”
So firstly, there’s an internet connection problem and then, there is parental pressure due to misunderstanding over this new form of learning.
Whenever we talk to our teachers about these issues, they always say, “Write a mail to the JMI administration.” When we talk to our seniors about this issue, they use the word ‘Digital division’, which means division if access in terms of internet connection, smartphone, PC etc. They advised us to mail the administration as well, but the administration never responds to any of our mail, which simply means the JMI administration doesn’t care about its students. One of my seniors said, “University se koi expectation mat rakho, bas ye samjho ki degree mil jayegi (Don’t keep any expectations from the university. All you’ll get from them is your degree)”.
A series of problems exists and each problem is connected with one another. My teachers always say this one statement in the class, “According to the JMI administration, we have to complete the whole syllabus in one month.” Well, actually, the syllabus has been designed to be taught in approximately four months, and we are expected to complete it in one month. How funny is it?
In my village, somehow, I at least have access to the internet. But what about those who live in places with no internet at all? As per an article published on India Today, more than 50% of students don’t have an internet connection in rural and urban areas. Even in states such as Kerala, only 23% of the rural population has an internet connection at home. Andhra-Pradesh has 2% reach and for states such as Bihar and West Bengal, this number is only 7-8%.
The problem that my friends and I are facing right now, I am sure, is the problem of the majority of students. The question is: what can be done to improve this? Should classes be available on personal/conference call? Should online classes be stopped altogether? Do universities really care about students like us?
Here is a thought: All educational institutes should approach the Central Government about this issue. They should collect data from rural and urban areas about the network being used by a majority of college and school students. Data should be sent to that network and a demand should be made to improve the internet connection.
Another solution is for the Central government to build a network pan India, but this is a long process. This might take 2-3 years, but at least the government can start doing this right now, so that online classes become a bit easy for the next generation of students.