Amid Covid-19, education has changed dramatically, with schools shut and the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken on digital platforms. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom.
The major challenge of e-learning is the disparity in access, from electricity and internet connections to devices like computers or smartphones.
However, in an attempt to bridge the gap in learning due to school closure and lack of devices and means for online studies, a teacher in a small tribal village has turned walls into blackboards and roads into classrooms.
A 34-year-old teacher, Deep Narayan Nayak, in the tribal village of Joba Attpara in Paschim Bardhaman district of the eastern state of West Bengal, has been taking lessons with the children of the village, on the streets, for a year now.
Popularly known as ‘Teacher of the street’, Nayak teaches a range of things from nursery rhymes to the importance of wearing masks and washing hands to students in the village.
Nayak said that he would see children loitering around the village, taking cattle for grazing, and was worried that his students, most of whom are first-generation learners and whose parents are daily wage-earners, would away from the education system if they didn’t continue with school.
He wanted to make sure their learning doesn’t stop which is why he decided to turn streets into classrooms.
The villagers are grateful that he has kept their children engaged in studies rather than wandering around uneducated due to the closure of schools. He is fondly called ‘Rasta Master’ by the villagers.
According to a recent survey, only a mere 8% of rural students are studying regularly online and 37% not studying at all.
The survey, supervised by economists Jean Dreze, Reetika Khera and researcher Vipul Paikra, covers 1,400 students enrolled in Classes 1 to 8 across 15 states and Union Territories, namely Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Delhi, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh account for more than half the sample.
The survey states that even today the digital reach in India is limited mainly due to lack of steady flow of electricity and lack of high-speed internet in rural areas.
Also, people in rural India do not have access to personal laptops or computers, and phones and still rely on traditional teaching methods for their lessons.
The government must focus on innovations in digital technology, online learning to make e-learning affordable and accessible to all.