17 Dec 2020 17:53 IST

Remote learning remains a challenge for low-income households: IIMA study

Children attend an improvised classroom set up at a construction site in New Delhi, India. Photo by Anindito Mukherjee   -  Getty Images

More than 70 per cent of children received assignments via text messages, reveals study

A latest study by researchers at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) reveals a darker side of the Covid-19-triggered disruptions in school education, which has left about 30 per cent students without any formal education since March 2020.

The study reveals that the most affected were the students attending private schools (33 per cent), followed by government schools (26 per cent), and those attending private schools through the Right-To-Education (RTE) mandate (22 per cent).

A rapid survey of 375 low-income parents and 700 children residing in urban Ahmedabad was conducted between July and September 2020 to understand accessibility to learning experiences and challenges faced by parents and their children.

Unidirectional interactions

The study, which was part of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and UNICEF Gujarat's initiative ‘Knowledge Management and Innovations for Change’ (KMIC), also discovered that remote learning remains a huge challenge for these low-income households with 4G smartphone penetration being less than 60 per cent. Also, frequent high-speed internet recharges and the need for more-than-one device for multiple-children made learning unaffordable for them.

The researchers also underlined a serious gap in the communication between children and teachers. "Much of learning and interaction with teachers is unidirectional.... around 30 per cent of children have no way to access teachers for any questions or concerns," noted the study, authored by a group of faculties and researchers including Ankur Sarin, Karan Singhal, Vaidehi Parameswaran, Bianca Shah, Ishu Gupta and Shraddha Upadhyay.

Communication gap

For students, the most popular mode of instruction has been sharing of assignments and other worksheets via phone.

"More than 70 per cent of children received assignments via text messages while around 30 per cent had live streaming of classes," the report noted. Students attending private schools through the RTE were more likely to report live streaming of classes (36 per cent). interestingly, the government schools have been following a more blended approach.

The study observed gaps in accessibility of the mid-day meal scheme. About 85 per cent of parents who sent their children to government schools reported that they were unable to obtain any provisions in lieu of mid-day meals. Also there were parents who faced challenges in meeting fee obligations to private schools.

"Inability to pay the fee has led some parents to consider alternate options of transfers to other schools or even dropping out of school for the year," it noted while listing down several recommendations, which included setting up helplines to assist parents with information on latest government notifications, notices and for their counselling.

Besides allowing easier enrolments to government schools throughout the year, it has also suggested to make school transfers easier for parents who couldn't obtain a school leaving certificates from private schools.

It also suggests to immediately transfer ₹3,000 as promised to those studying in private schools under RTE and reimbursements to private schools having such students to ease financial burden on them. It has underlined the need to provide autonomy to school administrators with SOP guidelines for reopening of schools to determine class modality and scheduling based on location and infrastructure and others.