All Sikkim Democratic Students Organization (ASDSO) has been carrying out a virtual protest across the state since June 22

Gangtok: E-learning has gained grounds in the country and across the world after the outbreak of COVID 19 pandemic. Likewise, Sikkim has also come under its purview since March 17, with focus on developing online learning through various mobile apps such as Zoom and WhatsApp. However, Sikkim has faltered on the aspect of e-learning with major concerns -– lack of electricity and internet connectivity in most rural areas of the state, as per the All Sikkim Democratic Students Organization (ASDSO).

Forget the rural areas, even in Gangtok, teachers and faculties from both government and private institutions have voiced out that internet connectivity has hampered education in the state. Raising concerns on the two key aspects, the ASDSO has been carrying out a virtual protest across the state since June 22 with the demand for better electricity and internet connectivity, and the same is gaining momentum here.

“The objective reality for all sections of students was not so favourable for e- learning. For attending online classes, one needs good quality internet, mobile phone in good operating conditions, and continuous power supply. However, due to unavailability of these very basic amenities, many students from rural and economically poor families find difficulties in attending classes. Thus, only those privileged students having all required amenities attended the e –classes, while most remain untouched from the e-learning process,” said a press release from ASDSO on Tuesday.

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ASDSO has been raising concerns on the same for months now and on May 13, they even sent a letter to the Chief Minister to look into the matter. “In absence of any concrete steps from officials, we met officials of the education department and even submitted a memorandum to the education minister Kunga Nima Lepcha who assured that the team will start working on solutions from May 23. But the main problem encircling students about e-learning was yet to be solved, when some colleges decided to conduct online exams,” said a member of ASDSO.

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The various demands and suggestions floated by the student body include investing more to combat all challenges in e-learning process, prioritization on improving internet connectivity, regular power supply, and providing Android mobile phones, providing financial assistance for students to overcome the financial burden.

ASDSO believes e-learning cannot substitute for classroom teaching and learning. “The department is concerned more about how to complete the remaining exams by any means. We believe that this practice will drop the quality of education. Above all, many of students have been deprived of online classes due to various conditions and making them sit for an online exam will not be a justifiable act. Hence, instead of stressing on how to complete the remaining exam by any means, the department should focus more on how to cater to quality education even in this time of crisis by improving the necessary condition,” said another member of the student body.

ASDSO has suggested the state government and education department to divert funds which have been allocated for the construction of Pilgrimage centre and for procurement of firearms of SAP to educational sector to improve the process of e-learning.

“There hasn’t been sufficient allocation of funds in an education and human development. However, we have been assured verbally while no action has been taken, hence, we opted for All Sikkim Protest Day from June 22-24. It seems that the government is running away from its responsibility, using COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse. We would like to highlight it that bring if the government does not address the necessary demands in due time, ASDSO will come up with democratic protest across the state,” it said.

Speaking with EastMojo on Tuesday, state education minister Kunga Nima Lepcha said, “Anything for the sake of protest must not be protested. Online education is a priority of the government currently and we are trying to reach out to the students. We are giving away reading materials to the students online to those with laptops at their disposal. Some teachers are teaching merely 4-5 students in online classes currently. Over a period, internet connectivity is being seen concern, we had depended on BSNL Telecom Service for internet.”

Recently, when the Union IT minister visited the state, he has emphasized on using BSNL more for better internet facility in the state, Lepcha said, adding: “On the ground we are putting in lot of efforts, however, sitting at home you cannot blame the government. Rather, the students must appreciate our efforts. Instead of laptops, we are thinking of bringing tablets which is cheaper than providing laptops to the students, which is in the pipeline. Focus is on the higher classes while primary students can be homeschooled.”

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