Mysore/Mysuru: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, students, teachers, parents and communities are doing their best to replace in-person with online learning. But Praveen from a remote village in Chamarajanagar, who is in 10th Standard, has not attended even one day of class.
Ever since Praveen’s school was closed for months amid the pandemic, lessons are being taught in the online mode and he cannot learn as he has to travel every day from Otterthotti village, where there is no internet access, to Maartalli in Hanur taluk of Chamarajanagar to attend the classes which are normally held in stages, all day long. His parents can neither support transport nor can his family rent a place at Maartalli by paying Rs. 7,000.
“The school is now saying, attend online class, but my child cannot. We have somehow managed to pay the fee. My son’s future is at stake,” said Victor, who has a small rain-dependent farm in the village. Praveen’s case is just one example of how the pandemic has exacerbated the country’s digital divide — the gap between those with the means and knowledge to benefit from the internet and those without.
Poor access to telecom services, internet connectivity and snail-paced data speed has rather widened the digital divide. There are over 5,000 families in the Otterthotti region with hundreds of students, 120 teachers, over 100 IT professionals who have come from cities for work from home. They have to travel to Maartalli every day for connectivity and those who cannot afford travel or rent a room or a house at Maartalli are commonly found struggling hard to get internet access at various vantage points.
Climbing on walls to access
They climb on stone walls where there is a bit of network and squat there the whole day trying to decipher what is being aired online. “We teachers too have to travel five kilometres to Maartalli to teach lessons through online mode as it is impossible to conduct classes at Otterthotti. We are paid only 30 to 40 percent of our salaries. How is it possible to bear the transport costs, fuel cost and food in this situation,” asks V. Anthony Muthu, a teacher.
Speaking to Star of Mysore this morning, Anthony said that Otterthotti village is surrounded by hills and students and IT professionals have to walk long distances and trek uphill to access the internet. “It is a daily struggle. Despite poor network connection, students and teachers are asked to use online platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, etc. for online classes. Only 10 percent of students, teachers and professionals can go to Maartalli to access internet. The rest are suffering,” he said.
A phone challenge
“We did not have a smart phone and I have had no work for the past two-three months. We have been trying to manage on our meagre resources. Buying a phone was the last thing on our minds. My daughter Swapna borrowed a phone from my sister and tried to catch up with the lessons. But there is no connectivity,” Kumar said.
“Teachers share the links in the morning and sometimes at night. They ask us to make notes and submit pictures of the assignment. I have to walk near a water tank to get bare-minimum access. There is a lot of rush at places where there is little connectivity and we are unable to attend our online classes and marked absent. If there are more users, then connectivity is a problem,” said Saravanan, a PUC student, who has a smartphone.
“The least the Maartalli Panchayat can do is to install a mobile network tower at Otterthotti village that comes under its jurisdiction. We are suffering since months and many appeals to the Panchayat and the District Administration have fallen on deaf ears,” said Anthony.