Another Student Commits Suicide: Digital Education Still A Mirage!

 


Online education had been hailed as an integral part of the new normal after the COVID-19 pandemic hit India and lockdowns were imposed from 25th March 2020 onwards. Schools and colleges were closed since late February, and after more than 8 months the much-touted online education is still not affordable for students of the poorer sections. The dream of Digital India had been sold years before with tremendous emphasis on smartphones and connectivity, even in the rural belt. And yet, one more bright student in a college in India’s capital commits suicide due to lack of a mere laptop or a proper smartphone with good internet connection. Earlier, incidents of students’ suicides were reported regularly from various states including Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Assam.

 

Her name is Aishwarya Reddy, a topper in 12th standard exam from the state of Telangana. This bright ambitious student got admitted in the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College of Delhi last year, as a B.Sc. Mathematics student. In February this year she came back to her home in Telangana as colleges were closed. Online classes were started after a few months by her college, and she found it increasingly difficult to attend and learn from these on her ordinary mobile phone and poor internet connection. She asked her father for a laptop, no problem even if it is a second-hand one. Her struggling father could not get it on time, and a part of India’s bright future committed suicide on November 2, leaving behind a suicide note saying that she did not want to burden her family further amid the pandemic-induced financial crisis.    

 

Her father has been a motorcycle mechanic who established his own repair shop only in March, and had to close it down after lockdown was clamped. To raise the money for his daughter’s higher education he mortgaged his house for Rs. 2,00,000, and was able to get her admitted in the Delhi college last year. Like millions of other workers and migrants he too got severely hit by the lockdown, as sources of income dried up completely. Although he opened his shop again recently, he had been struggling with his heavy compounded debt. Therefore, he was unable to get even a second-hand laptop for his daughter. And he lost her and the family’s hope, forever.

 

What about her college in the capital itself? Well, the Principal denied any knowledge of the student’s condition, and said further that the student never approached college authorities or teachers about her problems. Such claims are highly contestable, because when you do online classes with your students you have to accommodate all your registered students, and if some are missing in the classes you have to find out the reasons why. Besides, other sources in the college disclosed that she did indeed contact the college authorities with her issues, and nothing was done in the months that followed.

 

Aishwarya’s father also stated that she was selected for the INSPIRE scholarship by the Ministry of Science and Technology in the first quarter of the year, but the scholarship money never reached her. Why the delay happened is another contentious issue involving the college administration and the related Ministries including the HRD. If only a part of the scholarship money reached her even a few days back a precious life could have been saved.

 

A tremendous irony for a country that has been boasting of a Digital India since years, declared a new education policy and has been talking of self-reliance since the pandemic invaded the country. The Government of India has been continuously saying that the pandemic is indeed a great opportunity for momentous and permanent tasks and measures to strengthen our economy, but if you cannot provide for your students, the future of your country, then what opportunity are you talking about! Months back, this writer pointed out in social media that the greatest opportunity to take from the pandemic is to ensure a Digital India, giving away free smartphones/laptops to the needy students and making online education available and affordable for all rural and urban students.

 

But alas! Even after eight months of crisis the logistics are still not clear for the government. In the name of stimulus packages, they only provided free rations, but not the crucial financial assistance that millions were desperate to get. Do we need another pandemic and scores of more suicides to finally realize the priorities?


                                                                                                                            (Courtesy: NDTV Report)

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