Chinamayee Kar, an intern from Chitrokonda village in Swabhimaan area treks 15 km every day crossing the Gurupriya Bridge to reach his students. Sometimes she cycles or takes a lift from motorcyclists to cross this dense patch of forest to reach the village Janbai where around 20 students in two batches wait for her.
“These students did not attend school for months and had forgotten every little thing they learnt before the pandemic. They did not have smartphones nor TVs to attend online classes. I had to start from scratch. It was difficult to make them sit initially. I started playing with them to make them ready for studies,” said Kar. She said though illiterate, parents of these tribal children want their kids to learn.
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Jagadish Harijan, another intern of DIET-Bhawanipatna starts his classes at 6.30 am in the morning and teaches three batches of students by 11 am. Gobardhanpur, a hilly village in Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district is an interior village with poor road connectivity and almost nil internet access. “Belonged to poor families, the parents of these children go to work and the kids play outside from morning to evening. When I asked them to come for class many did not. I told them if you don’t want to work hard as your parents and you don’t want anyone to call you an ass, then come and study. After one month of class, they have learnt so many things and I am confident that if schools reopen, they will march ahead in confidence,” said Jagadish.
Covid pandemic has a catastrophic impact on education, the digital divide and affordability of learners in internet shadow areas have pushed the children of state-run primary schools into the academically disadvantaged state. Parents at the lower strata of the economic ladder send their children to government schools and many of them cannot afford to buy a smartphone and access internet connectivity for online classes. There are high chances that these digital have-nots may drop out or end up as learning deficit children.
Bhabani Patra of Kusumi block in Mayurbhanj district said, due to pandemic students have been promoted to upper classes without attending class or appearing for exams. Many children did not even learn basics like alphabets and numbers. “It was really an awkward situation for kids as they had never been to school but got promoted to class I from Anganwadi or class two from class one. Introducing them to studies was a challenge. I started with making them feel comfortable and tried to make learning fun. I started with drawing, playing various games, stories, music, dance, and crafts. I am hopeful that this made the whole process very joyful and the fear of lessons will go away forever from their mind,” said Bhabani.
The State Council for Education Research and Training (SCERT) launched the Alternative Internship Programme (AIP) last month in which around 8,500 students of DElEd courses of 68 teachers’ training institutes of the state are engaged in taking physical classes of around one lakh students in the absence of school during the pandemic.
“To bridge the digital divide and reach the digitally challenged students, we decided to engage our students of DElEd courses, who will also get a chance to complete their internship and practice physical teaching. After a month of physical teaching by these interns, we get to know many encouraging and motivating stories from interior pockets. Parents are also very happy that their kids got a chance to learn during the pandemic,” said Gangadhar Sahoo, director of SCERT.