Stakeholders are worried over digital challenges being encountered in remote areas

The massive exercise of reaching out to about 28 lakh schoolchildren in the government sector through the digital medium will kick off on September 1 with the government deciding to engage students in the academic activity almost after a five-month gap.

This will be the biggest academic effort through online platforms, using the reach of television but yet not all the targeted groups may be reached owing to technical handicaps. The guidelines issued by the government on the role of teachers lacks clarity. But the major question is whether the teachers and students are prepared for this exercise.

“The big challenge is how prepared the stakeholders like students and teachers are and not much effort has gone into training the teachers on using the platforms, more so for government school teachers working in the rural and remote areas,” argues a head master, unwilling to be quoted. Despite the deficiencies and shortcomings in the system, majority of teachers seemed to welcome it. Chava Ravi, general secretary of TS-UTF, feels that somewhere the exercise has to begin. “Government school students are being felt left out as they have been away from academic activities for almost six months now. Such gap in learning is not good and students will lose out,” he says, adding that there are challenges, particularly in the rural and remote areas, that have to be overcome.

Absence of broadband, lack of connectivity and affordability will haunt them apart from the absence of cable television network in the rural areas. Mr. Ravi reminds that the NCERT recent survey has revealed that only 27% have access to smart phones and Internet. The TSUTF survey in Telangana too has revealed almost a similar picture.

Two channels

However, the government has roped in the two channels of the Society for Telangana State Network (SoFTNET) — Vidya and Nipuna — apart from certain slots on Doordarshan. Though Vidya and Nipuna are available on cable TV and easily accessible, the absence of cable TV in a lot of rural areas and tribal areas may hamper the services a bit. “In backward areas people have DTH and not cable connections,” Mr. Ravi says.

However, TSAT CEO R. Shailesh Reddy, says the channels can be accessed through its app as well. Those with smart phones can access both Vidya and Nipuna apart from other social media channels. They are live on Youtube, Facebook and T-SAT website. He says one hour streaming will consume about 50 MB and, considering that students have to attend not more than two to three hours, data consumption is quite affordable as telephone companies are offering minimum of 1 GB per day. In fact, the web channels support even 2G and 3G technology, so students may not face many issues is what the government’s argument is.

Mr. Reddy said so far the Board of Intermediate has sought 14-hour slot, the School Education department has sought four hours while both the Social Welfare and Tribal Welfare institutions want four hours each. So, as of now 26 hours have been requested and both channels can easily fit the requests. “Most of the classes will be through recorded videos but if the departments want to go live TSAT has the technology.”

School Education department officials say at least 80% of students will be covered by TSAT channels and Doordarshan and teachers have been asked to reach out to the unconnected involving local gram panchayats and taking the assistance of educated youth in the villages.

Tuesday’s guidelines put the onus on teachers of monitoring students giving them assignments on WhatsApp or other forms.

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