No end to tribal students’ struggle with digital divide

Online classes with little access and poor awareness affect academic development of tribal youth

For over a month last year since securing admission for BA History at the Government College, Thripunithura, Vijeesh K., a 22-year-old from a tribal colony at Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, was effectively shut out of online classes.

The Internet network was at best patchy, and he could hardly afford to recharge the mobile connection with his mother’s meagre daily wages. That he got admission through supplementary admission meant that he had already missed classes by the time he had joined.

“We could not submit our assignments in time or complete notes. Initially, the college authorities were also in the dark about our plight,” said Vijeesh.

Volunteers working among tribal students lamented that online classes with little access, inadequate gadgets, and hardly any awareness on how to participate in online education had dealt a severe blow to the academic development of tribal youth.

“The state of our children is pathetic, as many of them have even forgotten how to read and write. The SSLC results among tribal students this year were good solely owing to liberal valuation. But the reality is that many tenth passed tribal students could neither write their names during admission nor had any clue about the course for which they had gained admission,” said C. Manikandan, a teaching assistant at the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University at Wayanad and also an active volunteer of Adi Shakthi Summer School, a collective of Adivasi and Dalit youths under the Adivasi Gothra Maha Sabha.

He added that the government’s conviction that providing devices to access online education would ensure smooth learning among tribal students is misplaced, not to mention the misuse of devices. Mentors should be drawn from among retired officials and educated members of the community for monitoring and guiding learning and safekeeping of devices at least in the case of SSLC and higher secondary students, said Mr. Manikandan.

The situation seems to be no different at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels either. “Many educational institutions were using dedicated apps, and most tribal students had no clue about how to use them. They could not submit projects and assignments in time either owing to access issues. The prolonged online education has left a big gap in learning among tribal youth,” said Mary Lydia, State coordinator of Adi Shakthi Summer School.

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