Systemic inequity and stories of resilience

इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए, यहाँ क्लिक करें।
हा ब्लॉग मराठी मध्ये वाचण्यासाठी, येथे क्लिक करा.

The current COVID-19 pandemic situation has changed the definition of ‘normal’ for all of us. It’s been more than six months that we all are at home. Our economy has faced severe impacts of COVID-19, and many of us have lost our jobs. Work from home and/or salary cuts have become a new coping mechanism. Now slowly people are starting to come out, go back to offices, re-start their business, etc. One of the biggest impacted services is schooling and education. 

In this article, we are aiming to focus on the impact of students’ education due to the pandemic.

According to UNESCO, there are around 300 million students who will not be going to schools and have to be at home because of the impact of Coronavirus. Let’s understand the numbers with the help of a diagram which showcases the gender-wise data of 300 million students who will be getting impacted due to COVID-19.


Taking this into consideration, the biggest questions for all of us as students, parents, teachers, education institutions, and society/community is how do we bridge this gap for students?  What do we do to make education reach students instead of making students get to education? How do we make sure that each and every student receives education? As parents, teachers, and adults, it is critical to ask these questions in the context of students’ education process.

The government has taken the initiatives of virtual classes to combat the challenges of schools being shut for more than 6 months. For virtual learning to happen, we need to have a consistent electricity supply, good internet speed, smartphones/laptops, or at least a television to access government learning platforms like Doordarshan to educate students

But the question that arises here is whether we are able to cater to all students or at least the students who were in the classrooms?  

Having or proceeding with virtual classes in order to continue education for students is a good intention but it will be important to note the impact it will have on the students who have migrated from rural areas, the students who are from low- income backgrounds, and those who need social-emotional support.

Current challenges:

Let us consider the challenges faced by the students due to virtual learning/classes. An article published by India Today on the 7th of July 2020 mentioned that current estimates show that out of India’s 1.2 billion population, only 600 million are connected to the Internet, mostly via smartphones. This creates a huge barrier for students (especially in rural areas) to access online education during this lockdown. (Source: India Today)

Another article titled   No gadgets, no studies: What online classes mean for 16 lakh poor students in Delhi schools written by Aneesha Bedi, mentioned how not having the access to smartphones, internet connectivity, and electricity is impacting students and their education.  (Source: The Print)

Another article published by ZEE NEWS talks about the condition and the divide of the rich and poor states of the country creating the divide between the haves and have nots, how some states are able to provide a maximum number of the internet services to their citizens and how some states are struggling to do so. It also talks about how 27 percent of students in India do not have smartphones and laptops, 28 percent of students are not able to study properly due to frequent power outages, 33 percent of students admitted that they are not able to focus on studies during online classes, 50 percent of students said they do not have school books, thus, students are facing problems in offline studies too. (Source: Zee News)

These are a few challenges that recent reports have been highlighting, and there could be many other unseen and unrecorded challenges as well. Data makes me wonder, how students who already have been fighting the battle of inequities and students whose voices have not been heard would be able to fight with a new layer of education inequity added due to virtual learning. This pandemic has made things tougher for everyone, including students. 

Catch 22 

At Apni Shala, we recognized some of these challenges and also realized that the system does have certain larger questions to respond to with regard to these inequities. Through the last few months, the team came together to first address the immediate need that was impacting the well-being of children and families. Providing essentials and food was a priority. We then recognized that the public school system that we work with –  including the teacher and principals – were trying their best in the current situation to ensure that students were not disconnected or cut off from their teachers and learning opportunities. For many of them, it meant they had to rely on the technology platforms in the current context. The Apni Shala team came together to work out how, even within these challenges of access to technology, we can create spaces that children can stay engaged with, and how we might process the difficulties students face as well. With the relentless effort of teachers, principals, caregivers and the Apni Shala facilitators we are now able to reach many of our students through the online media of Zoom, Google Meet, WhatsApp, or Phone calls. 

Many of the stories we share below come from the experiences of our team members in our work of recognizing the inequity and the resilience and continuing to work on ensuring inclusion.  Some classrooms conversations and teachers’/facilitators’ experiences:

  • The Khoj community school team recognized the difficulties that the families and the students are facing and have put together a resource centre. The resource centre has begun  services this month with the objective to support students and families through the challenges they are facing. The idea was that students and families live in the same community as the school and hence having their stationery, worksheets, tech tools, storybooks, toys in this resource centre will allow students to still access learning without the difficulty of connectivity to the internet or availability of smartphones.  
  • A teacher from Khoj Community school narrated a story of a 2nd standard student named Khushi, who called her to seek help. Khushi informed the teacher that her parents are very busy at work.  She also shared how she is helping out with household chores and is finding it difficult to get support with her online sessions. She gave the phone to one of Apni Shala’s older students (who lives close to her) from the community. The teacher requested the Apni Shala alumnus to support Khushi. The teacher shared and appreciated Khushi’s ability to point out her difficulty and then seek the help she needed. 
  • As the lockdown continued the Apni Shala facilitators began taking sessions in different ways. Some took sessions on zoom and google meet while others took them on WhatsApp. One of our facilitators began by calling her students. Some were at their native places and they didn’t have good network connectivity.  Once while taking a session on call she asked her student to watch a video for the next session and told the student that she would discuss the video with him later. When they connected for their session she asked him how the video was and what he understood. He promptly said “Tai (older sister) I didn’t understand the video at all. I wasn’t too sure as to what was happening in the video.” He then continued “I then showed my video to my grandmother so that we could collectively draw an understanding of the video.” Upon this, she asked him what it was about the video that he found difficult to understand. He funnily answered saying “I had understood that the video was maybe on respecting others but I also wanted my grandmother to see what we do in class so that she can help me learn. Now that we are home all the time it is even more important that we should respect everyone.” She shared how listening to this she felt very humbled and awed by the will to seek help from others to learn new things and also involve them in the same. 

The resilience is heartening and proof of the fact that we are always responding to the context and the challenges presented by the context we are in; currently the systemic inequity.  However it is critical to note that this resilience can become a reason for many in positions of influence to perpetuate the status quo. While we can pause, appreciate and learn from the way all of us respond to systemic inequities, it is equally important for each of us to find ways in our own sphere of influence to address these inequities that exist. One way for us to begin our work in addressing these inequities is to reimagine what the system should look like to include ALL.What if a students’ emotional well-being was considered as important as their other learning outcomes? What if there was a collaborative space created for teachers and students to decide the curriculum they want to do in the class? 

 What do you hope for in our education system? How would you reimagine the system to be inclusive? Tell us your hopes in the comments. You can use the #whatif and tag us on your social media as well. 


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