Amid education moving online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers in rural Sikkim are reaching out to their students to ensure that they do not miss out on education due to lack of internet in their area.
Most of the areas were the students lived have meagre or no phone connectivity, let alone the Internet. While the Sikkim government has launched the Sikkim Edutech App to facilitate lessons for students of Class 9 to 12, the junior students and those in remote areas hardly got any support. As a result, several teachers stepped up to reach out to the students.
According to a report by The Indian Express, Indra Mukhi Chhetri, a maths and science teacher in a rural area of South Sikkim district, is one such teacher who visits her students daily, taking impromptu classes from maths and science to general knowledge and English.
"I was really worried. The people in my village are mostly farmers, very poor. This makes education an even bigger priority for children in these areas than those in urban centres,'' Chhetri told the media.
As more and more teachers like Chhetri began personally visiting the students with resources, the news of the simple and effective teaching programme also reached Gangtok. Calling it "home-schooling for elementary education," the government formally adopted the programme last month, after the lockdown was lifted.
"The teachers were doing this arbitrarily. We decided to issue guidelines and make the system more structured,'' Bhim Thatal, Director, Elementary Education.
Thatal added that all 10,252 government school teachers in the state have been roped in under the programme.
According to G S Upadhyay, Additional Chief Secretary (Education) with the Sikkim government, it was the poor connectivity in the state that led to the government adopting the "homeschooling" programme.
He said that as only parents in a few urban areas of Sikkim own smartphones or tablets, there was a significant digital divide in the areas. Hence, a solution to the problem had become a necessity.
"Many teachers started this initiative to ensure that children kept up with their education. When we saw how successful this was, we decided to make it an official system last month," he said.
Under the programme, the location of each government school teacher was mapped out by the Education Department and was assigned areas. The government is also imparting lessons through community radio and telecasting science and maths classes through local television networks.
"A teacher living in a village may actually be employed in another village or district. But now they can ask their counterpart in that village to take over their students and vice versa,'' Thatal added.
From 9 am till lunchtime, Nevika Kafley, an English teacher at the Senior Secondary school in Bermiok Tokal, South Sikkim, visits the houses of several students. These students are identified the previous evening and in a week's time, Kafley reaches out to around 35 students between Classes 1 and 5.
Every day, Kafley spends around 20 minutes with each student. She also collects their notebooks and writes lessons for them on a weekly basis, in addition to briefing the parents on what needs to be done, Kafley said.
The teacher added that the village hardly had internet connectivity and none of the parents in Bermiok Tokal own a smartphone.
Meanwhile, instead of visiting students' home, Ganga Biswakarma, who teaches Hindi, English and Nepali to students from Classes 1 to 5 in Pamphok village, calls her students to a community room. Daily, Biswakarma conducts lessons for five students in the community room.
"Some of the parents were worried about coronavirus and didn't want the classes in their homes. But at the same time they wanted their children to study. So this was the best possible solution,'' she said.
"Most of the parents are happy with the homeschooling system. I had one parent joking that when the pandemic is over, she would send her children to live with me and study,'' she added.
Meanwhile, Sonora Chhetri, a mother of two in Samdong village, said, "The classes start at 9 am and usually go on till 1 pm. On the days that they don't have classes, the teacher sends us homework through WhatsApp and even calls us to check how much the children have finished."
"They get homework every day and are even given tests. We are poor people, and if it wasn't for these teachers, our children would have had no education at all," she added. Her 9-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, along with three of her neighbours' children visit their teacher's home in the neighbourhood.
With many students in rural areas unable to attend online classes, several states across the country have come up with innovative ways of learning.
Early this month, the Nagaland government had 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.
"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 C, Principal Director of School Education told PTI.
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 teachers have also been directed to regularly distribute notes and worksheets among the students of lower classes to ensure that they continue with 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. Lessons are also being broadcast through Doordarshan and the All India Radio in Nagaland.
Similarly, in Meghalaya too, authorities are distributing study materials through teachers wherever possible.