New Delhi: Charu Lata and Preeti Lata, sisters who hail from Bihar and currently live in a rented accommodation in Delhi, have grown up sharing their clothes, books, food and even secrets. It was all going fine for them until the advent of online classes due to the Covid-19 lockdown last month.
Away from home and living in a small accommodation in New Delhi’s Khajuri Khas, the two are now having to share the only smartphone they possess for their online classes. They sit and stress over questions like, ‘whose class is less important that it can be missed?’ and always realising that all classes are crucial. Charu and Preeti are enrolled in BA and History Honours programmes in different colleges of Delhi University – Vivekananda and Lakshmi Bai College.
About 90 km away in Hapur, another student Khushi is using her sister Bahaar’s smartphone as her phone conks off and becomes non-functional with no network or connectivity. While sharing the phone is not a problem, she feels she is “invading someone’s space”.
“I need to keep her privacy in mind even if she is younger,” said Khushi about frequently using her sister’s phone who is yet to join college in Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior.
Priya Singh, another student from Vivekananda College who is enrolled in the History Honours course, is sharing one phone with two other sisters who are pursuing BA and Hindi Honours programmes. “Everything is fine until the datesheet shows that we have the classes at the same time,” she said.
These stories have reached the teachers and also the college Union. Chayya Gautam, joint secretary of the Vivekanada College Union, said, “Many students have approached me with troubles in online education. Sometimes there are no smartphones and, in some cases, the siblings have one phone and have to share it between three or four of them. In this scenario, I ask them to see which class is more critical and then they prioritise among themselves and decide who will attend the class in that duration.”
More Fights, Anxiety of Missing Out
The online education is proving difficult for a lot of students as not only do they have to attend classes, they first have to make arrangements to attend these classes. “With online classes, we only see problems. Some students have the arrangement but with students like us with only one phone have to share it for our classes. We’ve faced a lot of problems. Like the burden to learn is all on us — you have to make all efforts to be there in the online class, missing out means one of us has to suffer,” said Charu.
Charu and Preeti discussed their situation at home with teachers and while the teachers empathised, they said classes cannot be changed as per their circumstances all the time. “So on certain days one of us has to miss the class. Our education is running on each other’s compromise. We sit and decide whose class is less important,” said Preeti.
The sisters have another fear: What if they will also have to sit for online exams the same day? “One of us will have to drop the idea of sitting in the exam. There is no way we can have another phone, forget about having a laptop. But why should we have exams in the first place? We have not gone back to our home inBihar and stayed here in the Delhi accommodation. We are doing everything on our own. And there is so much of anxiety. Many students are away from their families in these times,” said Preeti.
The two have more compromises and fights over the phone. “If my classes extend beyond a certain limit and come close to my sister’s, she starts panicking. This leads to fights between us… aur phir mood kharaab ho jaata hai,” said the two. Sometimes network becomes an issue and none of them get to attend the classes on time.
They said they cannot buy a new phone. “kahan se layenge? (Where do we get a new phone from?),” they said, pointing out that they are already spending Rs 1,000 for three months. When they came to Delhi, they decided to buy only one phone to prevent unnecessary expenditure and to avoid spending too much time on the phone. Both want to appear for civil services exam so phone was bought for only its basic purpose of keeping in touch with family.
“But some of my friends who have gone home don’t have a smartphone. They’ve missed a lot of classes. In our case, one just has to skip a class for another if the timings overlap,” added Preeti.
Khushi, who is studying English Honours from Delhi’s Vivekananda College and returned to her home in Hapur just before the announcement of lockdown, admires her younger sister for being generous and happily giving away her phone for her online classes. “I have borrowed my sister’s phone. Mine is good for nothing in this area. But the phone is not mine, even if she is kind enough to give it to me. That’s her phone and I am the ‘other one’ in her space,” she said. “I am very careful about how much of the study material I can download on her phone and how much mobile data can be spent on my requirements,” she added.
Khushi has a poor eyesight and look looking at the phone screen for long intervals makes things difficult for her. “I don’t know how much more peace of mind we will lose over online classes. Some of my friends are not even in the WhatsApp groups created for the classes. They are not part of these classes because they either don’t have connectivity in villages or they don’t own a smartphone.”
Then there were times when the power supply was cut off for two days and she could not charge her phone.
Online Education Push
The chairman of UGC, DP Singh, had told ANI that apart from looking into the immediate need for a new academic calendar and online examinations, the commission has constituted another committee. “One more committee has been formed for the promotion of online education. We are seeing at this time of Covid-19 and even later when all of this is over, to give a push to online education. It is important for improvement in the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in the country,” he said.
A panel under Nageshwar Rao, Vice Chancellor of IGNOU, is working on the overall “digital education that includes exams and learning". The experts News18.com spoke to were of the opinion that online education is a contingency measure and cannot be made a permanent one. Delhi University is holding online OBE examinations for its third-year students in regular colleges, School of Open Learning and Non Collegiate Women's Education Board – which the Delhi University Teachers' Association has been protesting against.
Sandhya Sharma teaching History in Vivekananda said that the online push in education is cruel and will take what students have achieved so far. Out of 50 only 22 attended the online class or submitted assignments. "We know that some students don't have any access to high technology, especially in our college where they come from villages, children of vendors, they have gone back and don't have smartphones or network. On the other hand some of them are having problems because there is only one smartphone to be shared between siblings. In this case one has to miss the class."
(Names of Delhi University students have been changed on request.)