Nagaland relearning with online education

Morung File Photo
Morung File Photo

Students in rural area suffer due to technical glitches, poor internet connectivity 


Kanili Kiho
Dimapur | December 30

2020’s COVID-19 pandemic has produced an emergence of online education across the globe. The state of Nagaland in the Northeast region of India has been no exception. The education system has leapfrogged to technology in a short span. However, how has the rural setting coped with digital learning so far? With 2020 coming to an end, The Morung Express spoke to students and educators from rural areas in the state, to give their reviews.

For Sangmailepla, a recent graduate from Sao Chang College, Tuensang this year had been “very hard.” The students faced a lot of technical glitches while appearing their final graduation exams this summer. 

Now, pursuing her Master’s degree from Nagaland University, Meriema, with exams approaching again; she does not know where to get the materials, and is struggling to learn online due to poor internet connectivity.

Distance learning, she said is not feasible for students like her in remote places where internet connection goes from low to nil.

Disappointment also greeted some few ‘sincere’ students, as their marks were not up to their expectation. Whether “we cheated our way through the exams or not,” the English honors student said, at this juncture, everybody is bound to assume that everyone ‘cheated.’

For students in lower classes especially in LKG (Lower Kindergarten), she expressed concern that they are getting through without actually learning. 

However, she held that for some students who had backlogs, online education served them in a positive way. Another positive thing, she pointed out was that the usual assignments, where they gave in all their time and energy, now has been made easier, in a sense that the students’ workload has been made lighter. While she cannot wait to join classes on real-time, she also said learning in the comfort of her home is also an advantage to some point.

As far the learning curve of students in government schools are concerned, “I don’t think online classes have benefitted the students in any way,” said a graduate teacher in Chaba High School, Tuensang, Tochumong M Chang. 

“Even though the schools were closed, we tried our best to teach them online and give them notes.” The teachers created ‘WhatsApp groups’ from their phones and added as much students as they could, he shared.

However, with many of them not owning a smartphone, besides the students being called back to their respective villages as soon as the lockdown was imposed, Tochumong said online learning is still a distant dream in remote areas.

“If online classes are going to continue, I don’t think the students are going to learn anything,” he stated, while adding, whatever exams they give, ‘everyone cheats.’ “The ones that used to get just pass marks are now getting above 50 to 60 marks. So it’s a big worry for the teachers also. What is the point if they cheat and write and get good marks?”

Considering infrastructure inequality as the core issue in remote areas, he opined that traditional learning is the best thing they can opt for at the moment. The school can only wait for the pandemic to pass and let normal classes begin, where students come to school and learn and then write their exams from the school itself, he added. The high school has around 700 students at present, with 97 students in class 9 and 25 students in class 10.

Online learning not applicable at ‘ground zero’

Head teacher of Government Middle School (GMS), Yoruba, Phek, Sheta Hiesu echoed that online classes and exams are ‘actually not applicable at ground zero.’ So the GMS went for offline mode instead. The students were given notes in hard copy and they also gave their exams offline. The students took home the question papers and submitted it to school the next day. Hence this year, the assessment was done in a lenient way, where no student was dropped out, except for one who could not turn up for the exams.

Even during regular classes, “it is still very difficult for the students to come to a level that their teachers are expecting,” said Hiesu, which shows the disparity of education in the rural and urban areas.

Students at the village level cannot be treated in the same way as students from urban areas, he stated. While the teachers were introduced to the digital world this year, Hiesu said that it was not the same for their students. Thus, according to him, “online learning is still not advisable here.”

Hiesu also said that while “we try to follow through every order that comes from the Directorate or from the government; but some orders are not feasible at the rural level.”

“They should also know the grassroot level, how it is running. They happen to make orders in line with the knowledge of urban areas, such as Kohima and Dimapur, which we at the rural areas cannot cope up with,” he opined.

For instance, he added that the school also tired to execute the alternative methods of learning through Television (Doordarshan) and Radio (AIR) with the help of students’ union; and went to the extent of visiting every student’s home to make them aware of the alternative methods of learning. However, the response was ‘very low.’ The parents in the villages still do not consider education as ‘that important,’ he stated.

On resuming classes for the next academic year, Hiesu viewed that while it is important for students to get education at the right time, at this juncture, “human life is more important, then comes education.” We will try to arrange classes for students in standards 6, 7, 8 in offline mode, while the lower classes were resume in the later part, he informed.

Citing poor internet connectivity and economy in the village, N Katiry, a graduate teacher in Government High School Kamaleah in Lephori, Phek district said the students were taught offline by distributing notes in hard copies. Katiry, who teaches mathematics and science for students in classes 8, 9 and 10, said the quality of lessons imparted has been far from satisfactory for the teachers and the students as well. 

Disparity in education

Principal Director, School Education, Shanavas C, said this pandemic served as an eye opener, exposing the disparity in education in the state. 

He said that the disparity was visible due to poor internet connectivity, which had to be implemented as an alternative method of education.

At this particular time, when the whole world is facing unprecedented times, “we are also trying our best. So we do something, learn from our mistakes, and wherever there are gaps, we try to fill it. That’s how we are also improvising in Nagaland.”

“Unless the purpose reaches the last child in the village, we cannot say it is 100 percent successful. We are trying each and every method so that all the students are covered.”

While the students in urban areas leaped to advanced learning; in rural areas, “there is no connectivity and they are too poor to offer anything, so the disparity was exposed this year and that was the biggest learning experience,” Shanavas added.

He stated that connectivity is a collective responsibility of all the departments in the entire government. “The state government as a whole, we have to improve the internet connectivity in the rural areas.

That is the final call, so once it is in place, we can do whatever is necessary.”  

He assured that the department will try and plan for a convergence in the coming year with the other departments. “We will try our best on how far we can go.”