28, Jul 2021 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a massive toll on education, especially for children from less privileged backgrounds. In this story we take a look at how a school on wheels is attempting to solve the problem in villages in West Bengal.
As the Covid-19 pandemic raged, around 1.5 million schools in India were shut, disrupting the education of over 26 crore children. Even though many schools went online and continued virtual classes, this still excluded a large number of children, especially those from economically backward families, and those living in remote areas. Many children depend on their parents’ phones to access classes. This is also a challenge if there are more children in the household than there are phones with an internet connection.
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According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 473 million school children around the world do not have the infrastructure to take classes online. This is especially true in remote areas where internet services are not available. Many such children will drop out of the school system completely. This will have a long-term impact on the economy and society. Children in India and Africa are having more trouble taking online classes India and Africa are having more trouble taking online classes, reported UNICEF.
According to the recently published National Sample Survey on Education, the literacy rate in West Bengal has reached 70.5 percent. However, only 9.4 per cent households in the state have computers, and only 18.5 per cent households have access to the internet. Add to that long power cuts, that render every gadget useless.
Professor Samirul Islam, president of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, told me there was a solution to this ongoing crisis. At least an attempt towards a solution. “The Mancha takes Bhamyman Pathshala or a mobile school to the children. The mobile schools drive into a few districts across West Bengal and teach the children in their neighborhoods,” he said.
The classes here consist of one teacher and only five students. This helps the children get individual attention as well as makes it easy for the teacher to maintain Covid-19 safety protocols. “We give books and pens to the children, and classes are held wherever convenient, often outdoors,” said a volunteer.
I sat in on one such class and saw that the kids, though shy at first, were having fun, while learning basic reading and writing skills. For some this was the first time they had ever attended any ‘class’. The children sure looked happy to attend these weekly classes, and more and more adults visit each time to make enquiries on how their children can join too.
While the physical school, the fun and games and the excitement of attending class in a bright schoolroom is yet a fantasy for most of these children, the fact that a ‘mobile’ school comes to their neighbourhood is a dream come true.
This report is part of CJP’s Grassroots Fellowship Program, and has been written by researcher Ripon Sheikh, who is travelling around rural Bengal, tracking and documenting social and cultural movements of indigenous people.
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.