Engulfed by the third wave of pandemic, I can not help but think of my childhood days, when my younger sister, Iti and I would keep our studies limited to early evening as we could not afford kerosene for lanterns. Maa would ask us to sleep by seven to avoid hunger pangs and darkness. Similar is the plight of the disadvantaged students of today who are left out from the process of digital education because the families cannot afford it. History repeats, and repeats to my agony.
Just before a few days, the threat of the wave was looming large, and now the wave has hit us. Omicron, a variant of Covid 19 has started affecting us in large numbers. Almost 1.5 lakh people are being reported as infected. Even in Odisha, which has a population of over 45 million people, more than 4000 cases are being reported. In the unlock, restrictions have again come into being. As the third wave of the pandemic approaches, the inevitable lockdowns will wreak havoc on the economy and livelihoods. More than 230 million Indians had been pushed in poverty last year and this year 2022 too seems really gloomy. In all such situations, poor people are most vulnerable.
Across major occupations, casual labourers, migrant workers & non-regulated workers will bear the highest impact of the pandemic. It usually happens in a crisis that low-income state like ours bear the highest incidence of poverty.
Even though there is a lot of suffering out there, I feel that the children of poor people are the ones who are deeply getting hit because of the pandemic. Students face an increasingly uncertain environment, and expectations about future takes a toll on them, both physically and mentally. Children who have taken admission in schools and colleges are missing out on classroom teaching which according to me is one of the most effective ways of learning.
Personally, I have been advocating every possible measure to make these children study; be it the doorstep delivery of books and foods or online classes via virtual medium. But there is, unfortunately, no substitute to classroom teaching and the situation is beyond control. Also, the lower middle class and the poor children in rural areas are forced to study through mobile phones as laptops and desktops aren’t easily affordable. Having a smartphone in itself is tough but paying internet bills monthly is tougher. The financial and socio-ecomic constraints forces students to withdraw from classes, delay in graduation, decrease in study hours and academic performance. It often lead to mental breakdowns amongst students.
After the decrease in cases during second wave students of KISS from 9-12th grade were called back to the institution where classes were conducted offline. But the unforeseen rise of cases has forced the administration to send the children back home where they can stay indoors. When the announcement was made, few KISS students didn’t want to return home as they couldn’t afford two whole meals a day back home nor could they pay for phones or internet connectivity. This is the impact that COVID has had on the education system, financially backward class and even on such a huge residential institution like KISS.
Personally, these experiences take me back to a time when I couldn’t afford to buy kerosene to light the lamps back at home during the evening to study. Our village didn’t have a steady supply of electricity and it was only under lanterns that one could study at home, and our family could not afford even burning oil for lantern. I can now realise that even though times have changed, the situation of poor people still remains the same. Then it was the lack of kerosene and now it is the lack of gadgets.
But situations can change and things can improve. Education is needed to eradicate poverty. It is the most effective weapon to slay poverty. Government has to make sure that digital connectivity across the country is available to meet such unforseen situations in the age of digital media and prioritise bridging the digital divide.