The ongoing crisis owing to Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) has affected almost every aspect of life. The extent of impact may vary depending on certain dimension. With the health crisis economic crisis is deepening. The education is not the exception. In the mid-April UNESCO reported that 192 countries had closed educational institution that is, school, colleges, universities etc. This closure impact 90 percent of learner and 1.6 Billion children would be the most targeted. This estimate clearly signal that how the economy will survive as the human resource is being hardly hit. However, during the lockdown across the country District Budgam of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) union territory presents unique picture of imparting education (online education).
What district Badgam administration claim: The Dispatch (a news agency based in J&K) quoted that district administration and Chief Education Officer took initiative to start teaching activity in the district Budgam. It is said that Budgam district administration has linked total of 50000 students out of 61000 who are enrolled in government school through the online classes (mainly through YouTube, Zoom meeting) and they are being taught in 13 education zone of district Budgam. Moreover, it has been said that district administration is working to impart education who did not yet cover especially from Gujjar community (Schedule Tribe) and planning to provide them android based smartphone.
Under SAMAGRA scheme 110 smartphone (android based) has already been procured and are being distributed. Further The Dispatch reported that Deputy Commissioner Budgamsaid that there has been incredible response from students and over 90 percent school has been connected and 73 percent faculty has been involved in the process of taking class from 9 :00 am to 10:00 pm. District Institute of Education & Training (DIET) Budgam prepared assignments up to 8th standard and made them available to students at their doorstep while examination for Unit-I and Unit-II of the syllabus has been done and process of First Term Examination has been initiated with tacking care of social distancing norms. These exams are being taken by teacher at student respective home.
Total of 785 schools out of a total of 966 educational institutions are currently linked, and out of the total faculty strength of 6223 faculties (lecturers, masters and teachers) 4579 faculty members are involved in virtual classes, imparting education to students.
Private educational institutions in the district have also been taken initiative to impart online education. Chief Education Officer (CEO) Budgam said all efforts are being made to cover all students through online classes from private institution too taking steps. As far as the mid-day meal is concerned the district has distributed ration to 45000 students up to mid-June. Cooking cost also being credited to beneficiaries account through Direst Benefit Transfer. The efforts made by Budgam district administration is commendable. However, this raise serious questions like, extent of smartphone and internet access, COVID-19 as hindrance, faculty reach out to children to home to home, which must be answered.
What data say about smartphone and internet access: As per Telecom Regulatory of India (TRAI) there are 687.62 million internet connections in India as in September 2019. According to study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Nielsen jointly, about currently 504 million are active internet user in India, who are five and above which constitute 37.30 percent of total population.
Recent TRAI report also suggests that access to online text has surged tremendously. IAMAI and Nelson report suggest that rural user 227 million outnumbered that of urban 227 million by 10 percent for the first time in 2019. The report added that even though rural internet users are more in number, however about 70 percent of the rural population do not have access to internet. The rate of growth is surpassed in rural areas than the urban. Jharkhand and Bihar recorded highest growth in internet population in 2019, which is 48 and 36 percent respectively.
India might have reduced digital divide gap, the gender gap still persists. Only 35 percent of the users at an all-India level are women. It is even in worse rural that is 31 percent rural and 40 percent in urban are female user. One can easily speculate that how would be the situation in J&K as the union territory has faced many crises from insurgency in Kashmir valley to continuous lockdown since 5th August following the abrogation of special status. Does based on this scenario claim made by administration is legitimate.
Some specific issues: The government of India has banned internet on 5th of August 2019 following the abrogation of article 370 and 35A which used to be considered as special status. After 35 days phone call has been restored in certain part of J&K and gradually 2G data has been restored in most of part of J&K. However, with number of efforts J&K again has failed battle for 4G network before the supreme court of India. World is experiencing 5G and to bringing 6G due to increasing online traffic. The fourth industrial revolution characterized by AI, robotization, automation is on the head. It again raises doubt concerning the claim made by district administration that we are teaching through YouTube and Zoom in the presence of 2G only. How legitimate this claim is need to be ponder about.
COVID-19 Numbers: Jammu and Kashmir has 494 active cases with 466 recoveries and 11 deaths as on April 14. While Budgam has 46 positive cases with 32 Active Positive and 14 recovered cases as on 11 March. The situation is in control or at least it is not as worse as Maharashtra. If the claim made by Badgam district administration is very true. Then COVID-19 would not be a barrier.
As per 2011 census in Jammu and Kashmir about 72.62 percent of population lives in rural areas while in Budgam 87.01 % population lives in rural region. The mass promotion has become the norms in Jammu and Kashmir. Following the CBSE the on 7 April 2020 Jammu and Kashmir government announced class 1 to 9 and 11 of Jammu division and biannual 11th class students in Kashmir division would be considered for mass promotion.
The students of class 11 who were to appear in annual regular exams falling under summer zone of Jammu division (that stands postponed) be promoted to class 12 as one-time exemption. It has been claimed that this is done to not to delay the session as in Jammu division the session starts from first April. If Budgam model is a success then why it is not being replicated across Jammu and Kashmir and across the country?If the Budgam district can why not the other districts? It should be replicated at least across the Kashmir and winter zone schools of Jammu division. Moreover, the mid-day meal (cereal, pulse and cooking cost) should be distributed as earliest.
Author is a Doctoral Fellow, MANUU,Hyderabad