Hyderabad: Sai Keerthi, 15, who lives at Addagutta, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, has no access to a television or any other electronic device. On Tuesday, the opening day of the Telangana government’s digital classes, Keerthi was among the at least 1.38 lakh students (8.4 per cent of the total) who struggled to tune in.
While a few of these students were accommodated at neighbours’ homes or at those of relatives, some were made to sit at gram panchayat offices. Those like Keerthi, however, missed out completely; instead, she helped her domestic worker mother carry out her chores.
The online sessions, for government school students of classes 3 to 10, are available on state-run TSAT channels and Doordarshan. T-SAT is a satellite network that aims to reach people through the audio visual medium, and can be accessed through cable tv networks and online platforms such as YouTube.
The state government claims that a majority of the 16,43,309 government school students, between the classes of 3 to 10, managed to attend the online sessions Tuesday.
According to Sri Devasena, commissioner and director of School Education, Telangana, about 14,03,714 lakh students (85.4 per cent of the total) attended the classes through several mediums. The remaining 1,01,595 students had electronic devices but struggled with other issues such as lack of internet and a lack of electricity.
Activists, however, dispute the attendance figure, arguing that at least 30 per cent of the government school students missed out.
“The ground reality is very different,” said B.Venkatesh of the NGO Balala Hakkula Pradakshina Vedika. “For instance, in Lingala mandal there was a power cut for six hours, so obviously the students missed the rest of the classes. Power cuts are quite common there but they may not have been counted into the category of students who missed classes because initially they logged in.”
Special chief secretary (Education) Chitra Ramachandran admitted that there are some teething issues that need ironing out, but added that there was an overwhelming response on the opening day.
“I am not saying we’re glitch-free or it has all been smooth. But, the response on the first day has been quite good,” Ramachandran told ThePrint. “We cannot directly put them in panchayat offices and all because of the pandemic; we will have to make sure there is enough physical distancing.”
The teething issues
Of the 1.38 lakh students without a digital device, only 78,000 were accommodated elsewhere.
The district with the highest number of students without access to any kind of technology is Bhadradri Kothagudem, with 9,980 such students. They make up 18.57 per cent of the total students in that district.
Next in line is Mahabubabad district with 7,000 such students, who are about 18 per cent of total.
About 150 students from the tribal-dominated Amrabad mandal, who used to go to welfare schools earlier, missed the government’s digital classes Tuesday due to a lack of internet, signal connectivity issues and most importantly, no device.
“I am aware it is not so easy in these interior tribal areas. What am I planning to do is probably record these classes on phone and then travel to the mandal and make students listen to it,” Nagarkurnool Collector L.Sharman told ThePrint. Amrabad mandal falls in his jurisdiction.
Activists say that the Covid-19 pandemic also hurt the students without their own devices. “Our volunteers encountered cases where the neighbours were not willing to allow other students inside their home due to the fear of Covid. We had to go and counsel the families and that’s when a few of them agreed,” B. Venkatesh said.
“The state government needs to plan something concrete for these students,” Venkat Reddy of the Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation told ThePrint. “Also, not all figures they say could be accurate. They’re taking an estimate from teachers on the ground, who, in a hurry, may have given quite vague numbers.”
The online classes
The Telangana government has been working on the online classes plan since April, according to official sources.
Through the T-SAT Vidya and T-SAT Nipuna digital channels, lessons on various subjects such as maths, science and social studies begin from 5 am. Lessons are also made available to the students through T-SAT mobile app to allow students to learn at their own convenience. On the first day, 1.5 lakh users logged onto the app.
The state government has also deployed school principals and teachers, across districts, to tour their areas and ensure that students are being able to attend classes. About 1.3 lakh school teachers are on duty to monitor the exercise.
Apart from this, 15,000 village volunteers are part of the initiative while all the district collectors were asked to be on ground and monitor the situation.