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The challenges of on-line education in rural India
Today I sat in on two on-line lessons at a Project Mala School in India. If that sounds as if our staff are managing their remote teaching effortlessly, and with the help of up-to-date technology, let me tell you just what a struggle it has been for teachers to help their students with their studies throughout the pandemic.

The schools remain closed, although life in the villages is almost back to normal, and students have been working alone since the lockdown in March. This means that they have now missed half a year of schooling and, even though the government has reduced the curriculum they have to study this year by 30%, they are struggling to get the help they need.
The Indian Education Authority has developed some excellent on-line resources to help children study at home, but this is only possible if they have at least a smart phone that will access the internet. Such phones in India cost about £50, which is more than the monthly salary of most children's families. In most cases they will be using the family phone, which must be shared by parents, grandparents, cousins, uncles……….

Even if they are among the lucky few whose family have such a phone, or even (very rarely) a laptop, the wifi network in rural India is not reliable and frequently drops out, or loses bandwidth, especially at popular times. On top of this, devices quickly run out of power and need to be recharged, and electricity is not always available.

So on-line lessons are only being offered to those senior students who are studying for exams and, as only perhaps a third of these students have access to a smart phone, the on-line lessons are given at weekends, as a supplementary revision class for the work that they have covered during the week.
Attending these lessons this morning gave me an insight into the challenges they face. About 14 students were present on each call and, though the teacher had a strong internet connection, many of the pupils were dropping in and out due to poor wifi. Some of them were able to hear the lesson, but not to join in, nonetheless they were focused and attentive, asking and answering questions as the teacher presented the topic. They told me that they miss school desperately and are finding it very hard to study alone, without the support of their classmates and teachers.

They would like to study more on-line, but often their family object to them taking up the phone time and battery with their work, so they have come up with some useful strategies to support their studies. Pupils have formed study groups, committing together to study a certain topic and then coming together through WhatsApp or phone calls to discuss their work and test each other on what they have learned.
WhatsApp has proved to be essential to both teachers and students for teaching new material, asking and answering questions, discussing topics and testing knowledge. The majority of senior pupils do have access to a phone that supports WhatsApp and they have WhatsApp groups for each subject that they are studying. Some can e-mail their work directly to the teacher for correcting, others may be able to take a photo and send it in a text, but the frustration of trying to work towards major exams under these difficult circumstances is evident, and I am hugely impressed by their ingenuity in finding ways to connect. (See short film)
Written by Anne Gilmour BA PGCE DipSpLD
Trustee and Teaching Advisor
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Robin Garland MBE
Project Mala
01904 341004