COVID-19 in Mumbai: 60 per cent of students at Dharavi school don't have smart devices

Updated: 14 August, 2020 07:17 IST | Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

A school that offers free education to 530 kids has hit a roadblock, as a majority of students are unable to attend online classes

Reeta Indrakumar Kohri along with her daughters at Matunga Labour Camp. Pics/ Shadab Khan
Reeta Indrakumar Kohri along with her daughters at Matunga Labour Camp. Pics/ Shadab Khan

Even as children from across the state are slowly moving into the e-learning mode, those in Dharavi are finding it difficult to cope with the online classes as their families are mostly out of jobs due to the pandemic and can't afford smartphones or laptops. Most of the 530 students of Banyan Tree English School near Matunga Labour Camp come from daily wager families for whom getting the basic equipment for online classes is financially not feasible.

Banyan Tree English School near Matunga Labour Camp
Banyan Tree English School near Matunga Labour Camp

The school provides education to its students at a subsidised fee of Rs 200 per year as its difficult for their families to even afford the basic pay of a municipal school. Most of the students come from families of daily wagers who live in and around the Labour Camp. The school also has a total of 17 teachers. Since the time online learning started, most of the students have not been able to attend the classes.

'None of us have jobs'

Thirty-five-year-old Reeta Indrakumar Kohri, whose husband is a tailor by profession, has two daughters studying at the school. While the younger one Nidhi is in Std V, her elder sister Suvarna is in Std VI. "My husband lost his job in March after the company he used to work for shut down. Ever since we have been finding it tough to even arrange for meals. We manage because either someone helps us or we do some menial daily jobs. But something is better than nothing," she said.

Reeta Indrakumar Kohri’s daughters have been unable to attend the online classes since they started.
Reeta Indrakumar Kohri's daughters have been unable to attend the online classes since they started.

She further said, "My daughters have been unable to attend the online classes conducted by the school. None of us in the family have a smartphone, let alone a computer. I sometimes borrow my neighbour's smartphone so that they can attend the classes, but we cannot keep asking them for help all the time. How do I arrange for two smartphones or laptops? Timings of their classes are different and their teachers have been complaining that they don't attend them, but how can they without any means to do so? We cannot buy a smartphone because currently none of us have jobs."

'No work in city'

Rajesh Janu Babare, 35, lives on rent with his family in Dharavi. His son Aryan studies in Std VI of the school. They have temporarily moved back to his hometown in Raigad since he has been out of work for the past five months. "We have been staying in our village for more than five months now because there is no work in the city. I haven't earned any money since March. We plan to return to Mumbai after Ganeshotsav since some businesses will hire people then," he said.

Rajesh Babare, a Dharavi resident (with son Aryan)
Rajesh Babare, a Dharavi resident (with son Aryan)

"We don't have a smartphone, which is why Aryan has been finding it difficult to attend online classes," said Rajesh, adding that there are major network issues in his village as it was in a remote location.

"There is no solution to this problem at the moment. We will have to wait for things to get better. Meanwhile, I borrow my neighbour's smartphone whenever I can so that my son can attend his classes. He keeps asking me for a smartphone but then how do I explain that I cannot afford one?" he added.

Also Read: COVID-19: Mumbai needs more bus services for the public, can 1,500 school buses chip in?

'Let's wait and watch'

Speaking to mid-day, Parvez Damania, founder and chairman of Damania Airways and president of the Banyan Tree Centre, said, "Approximately 60 per cent of the students come from families who do not have smartphones or laptops. The students have been facing this problem ever since March when we had to shut down the school prior to the first lockdown. However, another major problem they face is of extremely poor quality network, which further prevents those who have access to gadgets needed for online learning from attending the classes."

Parvez Damania, president of Banyan Tree Centrev
Parvez Damania, president of Banyan Tree Centre

When asked what the solution to the problem was, Damania said, "Most of our students come from daily wager families, hence, forcing them to buy smartphones is not a fair thing to do. If some families have two or three children attending school, then how will they manage? Or if there is a single smartphone in the family and the father takes it out with him, how will the children attend classes? Our fee is also negligible and sometimes we provide education to children for free. Now the only solution is to wait and see how things play out in the near future. All of us will have to bear with the situation because we are not the only ones facing the problems. Even the teachers have been given a 50 per cent pay cut."

Want to donate?

Do you have a device or equipment that the school could use? Please call Devanand Dethe, project head, on 9833428617.

If you would like to send money, you can do so at:

Children Education Society
Saraswat Co-op. Bank Ltd.
Jai Ganesh CHS Ltd.
60 Feet Road, Dharavi, Mumbai 400017
State Maharashtra, INDIA
Branch Dharavi
IFSC code: SRCB0000264
S.B Account Num: 264203100000135
MICR code: 400088086

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First Published: 14 August, 2020 07:05 IST

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