Education Flip-Flops

State must work overtime to strengthen infrastructure for online school education

THE Goa government’s approach to conduct of school education in the coronavirus time has been clumsy and lacking in competence from the very beginning. The bungling has caused much anxiety and uncertainty in the minds of teachers and students alike. First, the state government announced there would be online education in accordance with the direction of the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development. Then a few weeks later the state government directed the teachers and non-teaching staff to report for duty at their respective schools. Though the Union HRD ministry had said the teaching and non-teaching staff be allowed to work from home, the state government by a circular issued on June 23 made it obligatory for teachers to report for duties and carry out their responsibilities at their schools. The teachers and non-teaching staff were not even given a day’s notice to resume their duties. Now that the Union HRD ministry has written to the state government asking it to follow its online education guidelines as part of Unlock-2 till further directions, it is clear that the state acted in contravention of the central guidelines which allowed teachers in other states to work from home and carry on online or distance teaching. What made the state government to not follow the central government directives when coronavirus positive cases were rising?

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who also holds the charge of education portfolio, first said online teaching and learning would be compulsory and then changed his stance, saying online education was not compulsory, a change that left school students confused about e-learning. It is surprising to note that though the teachers were made to resume duty at short notice, the government failed to provide facilities for online teaching in the school premises. The government move to ask teachers to resume school duties surprised them as well as the students and their parents, and questions were raised about the purpose behind the directions. The government flip-flops caused mental agony to the teachers as well as students.

Now that the Union HRD ministry has asked the state government to allow teachers to teach from home, it has to work overtime to build the infrastructure both the teachers and students need for online school education to be satisfactory and successful. There are problems with the internet and connectivity in several parts of the state. Even in places where they are available the speed and consistency are big issues. In online education, a lot of material has to be downloaded and that requires excellent technical infrastructure. The government announcement of creating network hotspots has remained on paper, though almost three weeks have elapsed since the last government order on the subject. Then there are personal issues of students. Not all parents can afford to buy their children smartphones, laptops or computers. The state has witnessed a tragedy in which a ninth standard student in the state allegedly committed suicide as his parents failed to provide him with a mobile phone. Though the state government has been talking of online school education it has not come out with any policy to help students from the poorer sections of society by providing them with subsidised mobile phones and internet connectivity. 

The state government’s decision to direct teachers to report for duty was not the first time that it went against central government directives. It also chose not to follow the central government guidelines in not declaring a containment zone quickly, despite huge rise in COVID-19 cases at Mangor Hill, which led to the virus spreading all over the state. Sawant was also quick to order a one-week lockdown in the state even when there was not a single coronavirus positive case in the state even before the Janata curfew ordered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ended, putting the state population in serious difficulties and depriving them of essentials. True, every state has the freedom to tweak central government guidelines. But when a state government has to go according to its own situation, it has to have its equipment and resources in place. Before it  announced that online school education would be compulsory it should have made an in-depth assessment of its human and technical resources and overcome the weaknesses.