Indian teachers bring school to students with chalkboards on bikes, loudspeakers

Students left unable to access online lessons due to limited internet access in rural areas

Shut down for nearly eight months due to the coronavirus pandemic, and unable to run online classes due to limited internet access, thousands of schools across rural India have devised novel ways to impart instruction: they are taking the schools to their students.

Teachers in many village schools in northern, central and western India are employing loudspeakers, rigged up in village centres or strapped to carts to daily relay lessons to students ensconced in the safety of their homes or their courtyards.

Others carry chalkboard strapped on to motorbikes, which they park at strategic spots in the village, and then teach children gathered a little distance away, observing social distancing norms.

"Such innovative ways ensure that students catch up with their syllabus, which they have missed out on since the lockdown was imposed in March and when all educational institutions were indefinitely closed," said Satyanarayan Sharma, who runs a school in northern Haryana states Jhajjar district.

Better than nothing

As the prospect of schools re-opening anytime soon recede d further after India’s confirmed coronavirus cases crossed 7 million over the weekend, Mr Sharma has rigged up a loudspeaker on a cart which his many teachers take turns at using to hold classes.

“It cannot match up to classroom learning, but it’s better than nothing,” Mr Sharma said.

Ghanshyam Bhai, a teacher from Janan village in the Kachchh district of the western state of Gujarat, uses the village council's public address system to relay lessons, short stories, songs and guidelines for parents on ways to care four their children during the pandemic.

“While it is not possible to teach complex mathematical subjects through loudspeakers in these challenging times, it at least ensures that children’s learning is not totally disrupted, ” he told the Press Trust of India news agency recently.

Educationists say the digital divide has the potential to turn online classes into an “operational nightmare” for many teachers and students alike.

Anidit Roy Choudhary, who heads Save the Children (India) charity, said the country faced a distinct digital divide, with many rural areas "well beyond" the reach of the internet. Numerous households had neither smartphones nor access to other digital devices, he said.

Education scramble

Tens of millions of parents across India were have been desperately scrambling for their offspring to somehow continue their studies.

Imran Khan, a farmer in Khair village in northern Uttar Pradesh state, spends his evenings teaching his 12-year old son after investing several hours every day downloading PDF files from a particular spot where internet connectivity is good.

“Because of this pandemic I cannot let his studies get affected,” said Mr Khan, who is eager for his son to become an engineer.

According to official statistics India has more than 350 million students, but only a limited number have internet access to enable them to pursue their studies.

With a daily average of more than 77,000 confirmed coronavirus cases at present – down from 90,000 in late September – India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst hit country in the coming weeks, surpassing the US where more than 8 million infections have been reported. More than 110,000 in India have died from Covid-19.

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi