Online Education | When children who cannot afford books are asked to learn on computers

The sun is shining on the bust of Dr Ambedkar welcoming you to the narrow streets of Ambedkar camp in Jhilmil industrial area, Delhi.

My eyes snap on a million strokes – a group of kids running around barefoot, kids sitting on the road playing carroms, women in veils with plastic containers to fill water, girls sitting down on the narrow handleless stairs them holding books, men bathing in the crowded streets, children sitting and playing shuffleboard games, a peddler selling Hisab (Arithmetic) books on a long rod resting on his shoulders.

Jyoti – “I dream of a study table of my own”

Jyoti and Kiran study on the family’s only cell phone. (Photo credit: Simi Chakrabarti)

Jyoti, 17, closes her book with a pencil in between to mark the page, as she and her sister Kiran have to leave for work. As their mother suffers from typhoid, the two sisters have to work as domestic servants in the residential area of ​​Vivek Vihar. Between them, they earn Rs 4,000, the monthly income of their family of seven members. The girls are in a rush – they have a “12th class pre-board exam” the next day. Kiran quickly finishes the housework, Jyoti gets up to give his mother some medicine and they leave.

Here I am in a colony where existence is a struggle and a good education a luxury.

Wasn’t the pandemic and lockdowns enough to ruin their lives for this online education to further widen the gap between these children and the quality education they deserve? In a community where students couldn’t buy their books; getting laptops, mobiles and stable internet connections is an unrealizable dream. Online Education – What the government and the coaching industry claim to be the future of education is right in front of me, carrying its desperate present.

“When we couldn’t attend online classes during the first two months of the lockdown, our teacher called and suggested to arrange a phone for at least two hours a day,” Kiran tells me. “We tried to borrow a phone and were successful for a few days. But when the exams started and we didn’t have the resources to study, our mother borrowed money from where she works and gave us a phone. It’s been 6-7 months and she continues to pay the installments on this phone. “

Their father worked as a daily mason and has been unemployed since the announcement of the lockout. They haven’t paid their rent for 8 months and live in the 25 guz room at the mercy of the generous landlord.

Jyoti bursts into tears as he remembers the days of lockdown and those endless queues where they had to stand for the only meal of the day. “When we couldn’t afford to eat, how did they expect us to buy a phone? she asks wistfully. (In the whole conversation, they never even mentioned a laptop. Really, the imagination springs from reality.)

Jyoti and her sister, Kiran, talk to their mother, who is being treated for tuberculosis. (Photo credit: Simi Chakrabarti)

“Everything was delayed because of the pandemic – food, shelter, salaries, studies… But we were asked to pay our fees on time. Why? ”Kiran asks. In a family with a monthly income of 4000, Jyoti, Kiran and their brother had to borrow and pay 7500 school fees to be able to take their exams.

I see a momentary smile on their faces when I ask them about their dreams for the future. With a sparkle in his hazel eyes, Kiran jumps up and comes back with a few drawings in his hand. I cannot stop but be amazed at the pure beauty of his paintings. With the very talented girl standing next to me, her beautiful sketches in my hand and her miserable reality in front of me, I can’t find the courage to look her in the eye.

When I turn to Jyoti, she tells me: “I have two dreams (she laughs). First of all, I want to be a teacher… ”

“And?” I ask. She stops a bit and says, “I wish I had my own study table. I would have liked to have had a study room like the children of the public schools. I am speechless.

Jyoti and Kiran take me to their friend Neha. Back from work, the three of them finish their daily chores and then study together at night. Neha’s father died of prolonged illness a month before the lockdown. Her mother is a domestic helper who earns 6,000 a month to feed her four daughters, Neha the elder.

Neha: A book in one hand, a ladle in the other

When I first saw Neha, she had a ladle spoon in one hand and a book in the other. She was getting ready for her exam and her right hand was busy making Dalia for her younger sister. Like other children in the area, online education is out of the question for Neha and her sisters. After her father disappeared, she had to work as a domestic helper and iron the clothes of the inhabitants of Vivek Vihar. After borrowing the money, their mother arranged a mobile that is used by one sister at a time. Meanwhile, the other three must miss their lessons.

Neha stands outside her one bedroom house (Photo credit: Simi Chakrabarti)

The dismal little room they live in was claustrophobic. In one corner was a gas stove, the kitchen so to speak. The other corner had a shabby almirah where their clothes were kept on one side and books on the other. To study, the girls sit on the single bed against the wall. The room has nothing but an old dim light bulb to brighten up the books. A photograph of their father rests next to the only light bulb in the room. “My father is no longer there. But he taught me to speak my mind, to be fearless and hardworking, ”Neha told me. “I’ll do my best to make him proud someday.” Neha wants to continue running the hotel. “Someday, if I were to become a chef, I would buy a suitable house for my mother. I will do my best to give my family a better life. ” She is well aware of the lack of resources and opportunities for her and of its cost. dreams are, the ugly gulf between his dreams and his reality. A smile on her lips and the hope sparkling in her eyes is her answer.

As a person who grew up in a middle class family, I often heard things like, “See !!! He was the son of a rickshaw driver who passed the exam ”

But today, in front of these girls standing on this tightrope of dreams and reality, worthy and nostalgic, of hope and despair, I wonder, why did the son or daughter of this autowala have a exception? Was he the only one in their community with the ability to excel? Weren’t there many Jyoti, Kiran and Neha waiting with immense potential to be released? Are we not losing them because even today education remains a luxury for a few? Does every poor child have to be “extraordinary” (in the ugliest sense of the word) to be able to live a life of dignity?

With too many questions and very few answers, I say goodbye to them.

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