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Amid educational institutions being shut due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Nagaland government has announced to distribute pen drives loaded with study materials among students of classes 5 to 12 residing in rural areas where they are unable to attend online classes due to poor network connectivity, a senior official said on Monday, August 10.
Since the closure of schools due to COVID-19 outbreak, two phases of online education have been completed in the state. The third phase will begin on August 18. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all educational institutions in the state have been shut till August 31.
Shanavas C, Principal Director of School Education, said the pen drives will contain the syllabi covered in the online classes held since May 1.
"Students residing in urban areas like Dimapur and Kohima can access online facilities, but those living in rural areas face network issues. This is why pen drives loaded with study materials will be distributed among students of classes 5 to 12," Shanavas was quoted as saying by PTI.
Meanwhile, the education department has also instructed teachers posted in the rural areas to assist the students in studies as they are facing issues in attending online classes, the official added. The teachers have also been directed to regularly distribute notes and worksheets among the students of lower classes to ensure that they continue with education.
Furthermore, through the department's portal http://www.dosenl.in, the private schools can also place orders for the pen drives. However, they will have to pay amounts between Rs 350 and Rs 850 for a pen drive depending on the syllabus covered in it.
Amid the pandemic, several villages in Nagaland have been struggling to access online education due to the poor network in the region.
According to the Telecom Register Authority of India, in 2019, there were 6.09 million internet subscribers in the Northeastern states, except Assam, with 2.75 subscribers per 100 population - the lowest in the country, reported The Print.
Furthermore, internet connectivity has reached only about 35 per cent of the population in the eight Northeastern states. Amid this, nearly 8,600 villages still don't have access to the internet, according to the government's 2018 data.
In 8,621 identified and uncovered villages, 6,673 mobile towers are being set up under the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for the Northeast Region. Meanwhile, 321 mobile towers will be set up for national highways.
"We have a lot of issues, especially in the interior districts. So that's why we are trying both the online and offline methods… The network, even if it is there, will be erratic in many places. So we need a permanent solution," Shanavas told the media.
In Tsuruhu village, which is among the ten villages in Satoi administrative circle, and is located at an elevation of about 2,000 metres in the Satoi range, students are facing many problems due to poor networks. Amid the pandemic, 39 college and school students coming back home has added to the hurdle.
"Students here face many problems. They don't have proper notes because they don't have a network and they don't have any connection with the teachers. The parents were shocked when they heard that exams will be taken online," said Iuka Zhimomi, president of Tsuhuru Students Union.
The village has 90 residents, all of who belong to the Sema tribe and are dependent on agriculture as their source of livelihood.
Many students in the village had to trek 3-km to reach a spot on the hill - which is the only area in the entire village that receives network connectivity with - to give their online exams. For the residents of the village, the nearest tower is in Gokhuvi village, which is over 15 km away.
"It is difficult but we have to do it. If there were a network tower in our village, I would buy a smartphone by any means. So that at least I can let my kid have online classes or exams at home, than letting them go in the jungle," said Bovika Zhimomi, whose eight-year-old son Hivika Zhimomi had to trek up the hill for two weeks to give his first quarterly exams for the year, which concluded in the last week of July.
In Meghalaya too, authorities are distributing study materials through teachers wherever possible.
"The main service provider is BSNL (Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited) here, but they can't cover the remote areas. The towers are installed but the link is erratic. So, to have online classes, if there's no continuity of internet connection then it's not possible," Meghalaya's West Khasi Hills District Commissioner Tableland Lyngwa told the media, adding that online classes are still not possible in many areas.
"Phone calls are not possible in the remote areas due to the difficult terrain. So we are doing it by traditional communication like by word of mouth," he added.
With schools shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials in the region are taking various measure to ensure that students continue their education.
Last month in Nagaland, the state Department of School Education issued directives to all government schools, noting the difficulties faced by students living in remote areas in accessing education.
The directives instructed the teachers to make notes for every topic, which will then reach the students through television, radio or online programmes. In addition, schools would also contact parents in the beginning of the week to distribute notes.
"Just before the lockdown, we introduced the teacher's diary… (and) modified it a little bit. We told the teachers in the remote areas to encourage distribution of notes and worksheets to the students, entries of which are made in the teacher's diary. We will monitor the activity through this," Shanavas said.
Furthermore, in Nagaland, lessons are also being broadcast through Doordarshan and the All India Radio.
Meanwhile, Nini Sekhose, president of the All Nagaland Private Schools Association, said, "I did not expect so much pro-activeness and initiative (by students and teachers). In fact, all of the districts have reported 85 to 90 per cent of attendance in the first-quarterly exams (through both online and offline)."
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