Crossing Borders Chasing Classes: Education in the 'New Normal'

Image Source: The Business Standard

Geographical borders mean little when what lies on the other side of it is an opportunity for education, as has been proven by Sony Sanjukta Dung Dung, a tribal woman from the Rangamati village in the Sundargarh district of Odisha, who, almost every day, brings a group of students into Jharkhand, crossing the Odisha border, in search of good internet connection.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has brought with it several unforeseen challenges, the likes of which have never been experienced before by humankind. A pandemic of this extent has not only caused huge losses in terms of human lives, but has also completely altered almost everything about our previous way of life; everything, and especially our education sector.

The children of the aforementioned Rangamati village have not fared well from this situation, whose access to online education is hugely limited due to lack of consistent internet connectivity in the area; this has resulted in a huge number of dropouts in the village and has resulted in these children being forced to work from a very young age. Sony Sanjukta Dung Dung has taken up the charge of leading these children across the Odisha-Jharkhand border in search of mobile signals, which is very fickle and inconsistent in their own area. This has been going on regularly for the past few months, where a group of children, Ms. Sanjukta, and often some villagers as escorts, walk for over 5 kilometers, traverse a forest and cross the state border so that they can attend their online classes. It has been reported that only a meager 20-25% of students in the Kutra block of Odisha, under which falls the village of Rangamati, currently have access to online classes.

Since March 2020, all physical classes of every school, college, and university of this country have remained suspended. Classes have been conducted through an online medium, but a pertinent question remains: how many in India can actually avail of this education? Even though there have been several phases of ‘Unlock’ after the initial lockdown, which includes the reopening of shopping malls, bars, restaurants, and more, the schools and colleges have remained shut.

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