Kerala Student’s Suicide is a Reminder that Online Classes Defeat the “Education for All” Purpose

Social Commentary

Kerala Student’s Suicide is a Reminder that Online Classes Defeat the “Education for All” Purpose

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Kerala has led from the front when it comes to fighting the pandemic. Now even as education institutions remain closed across the country and exams are being cancelled, the state began the academic year on Monday with online classes for students. It’s a great initiative but the suicide of a Class X Dalit girl in Valanchery, Malappuram district, is a reminder that online education is a luxury for India’s poor.

A bright student, Devika killed herself, reportedly for not being able to attend the online classes that began on June 1. Investigation revealed that she had self-immolated herself with a bottle of kerosene. Her body was found in an abandoned house in the neighbourhood along with a suicide note. “I am leaving,” the 14-year-old wrote.

Daughter of daily wage workers Balakrishnan and Sheeba, Devika was an academically sound student, according to her parents and had also bagged the Ayyankali scholarship. She had been anxious about not being able to attend online classes.

Balakrishnan said that they had a television set at home, which was damaged a few days ago. He couldn’t get the TV repaired as he had no income during the lockdown.“I had told her that we can repair the TV when the classes start. Or the school will provide a tablet, or she can go and attend the classes from the home of one of the students in the neighbourhood…” Balakrishnan said.

From the family to her teachers, everyone was shocked with the incident. “None of us can believe this. She was very smart in her studies, was part of the Junior Red Cross team of the school and was the class leader too,” Aneesh Kumar K, who was Devika’s Class 8 teacher told The News Minute.

The school was planning to take virtual classes for students like Devika using a projector. “I talked to her twice over the phone. We had collected details from all students who don’t have access to smartphones or the internet and had handed over details to district level officers,” he added.

The Kerala education department has said that NGOs and local self-government institutions had set up digital classrooms in Dalit colonies. But it has been reported that in places like Wayanad at least 40 per cent of the students missed classes on Day 1.

Activists pointed out the faults in Kerala’s development model, saying that Dalit, tribal students will be excluded from the educational sphere if the state is not serious about the lack of digital infrastructure among different communities. Demonstrations began outside the DDE office and police lathi-charged some of the protestors.

On Twitter, there has been outrage against the rush to start online classes. The National Students’ Union of India has said that such a learning system is not accessible to all.

Shashi Tharoor, a Congress MP from Thiruvananthapuram, spoke about the digital divide in our schools.

State Education Minister C Raveendranath has asked for a report from the district education officer on the child’s death.

At least 45 lakh students in Kerala began attending virtual classes organised by the state education department from Monday. There is no official figure yet on how many were unable to attend online school. To ensure that no other student like Devika is left behind, we need to do a lot more.