Kerala’s Online Classes Are No Longer a Luxury. Even the Poorest Kids Have Access to TV, Internet

Social Commentary

Kerala’s Online Classes Are No Longer a Luxury. Even the Poorest Kids Have Access to TV, Internet

Illustration: Arati Gujar

In the first week of June, a bright 14-year-old student killed herself, reportedly for not being able to attend the online classes that began on June 1 in Kerala. Investigation revealed that she had self-immolated herself with a bottle of kerosene. The suicide of the Class X Dalit girl in Valanchery, Malappuram district, was a stark reminder of the digital divide in the country – that online education is a luxury for India’s poor.

The death triggered alarm bells within the system. Kerala was posed with a monumental challenge of ensuring that 2.42 lakh children get access to education, who according to a state survey, didn’t have means to attend online classes at home. It led to a mass movement that cut across party lines and politics, as government officials, businesses, alumni associations and civic bodies scampered to bring schools to people’s homes and arrange common study rooms even in remote villages, The Indian Express reported.

“This unprecedented intervention has helped reduce that number to 1.20 lakh. In the case of others, common classrooms have been arranged and are on track from Monday. Within the last two weeks, we have ensured that online classes reach every school student in the state,” Kerala’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan project director Dr A P Kuttikrishnan told the newspaper.

At the beginning of the month, Kerala launched a TV challenge, a campaign to donate TV sets to poor children to ensure they would have access to digital education. Students’ Federation of India collected 3,228 television sets from across the state through its “First Bell TV Challenge” and Fr Davis Chiramel, popularly known as the Kidney Priest in the state for selflessly donating a kidney, arranged TVs for 200 students. In villages, WhatsApp groups were formed and with the help of alumni associations money was raised to buy smartphones and TVs for students who couldn’t afford them.

The classes are being aired through the KITE Vicers channel and online platforms as part of the state government’s “First Bell” online programme. Classes on new subjects are telecast every day from 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

The Vicers YouTube channel reached almost 1 million subscribers and it recorded over 16.50 lakh app downloads on Google Play. The classes are pre-recorded and teachers are instructed to call up students and clear the doubts they might have.

The Kerala education model seems well on track.

After setting healthcare goals in the fight against the pandemic, Kerala is now setting up a national example on how to deal with the digital divide. And for that it deserves an A+.