The odds against schooling are stacked in Shivar. Students find it difficult to study and parents grapple to keep them productive

By Shruti Rathi

Pranali Chorpagar dropped out of college last year. By March, she made the return journey to her village Shivar, nearly 60 kilometres from Amravati. She was supposed to be studying Science in Class 12 but now operates a paan thela (pan shop) in the village. “We are extremely poor. I could not go back to Amravati,” she says. Pranali’s job in Amravati as a domestic worker had come to a halt when the lockdown began. She has no access to a smartphone, let alone the internet. “I want to study further and get a well-paying job but I cannot help the current situation,” she rues.

Pranali is worried about her financial burden but she manages to smile

Pranali’s father, 41-year-old Arjunsingh, works as a farm labourer, as do many in the villages here. “I have to work in the scorching sun and heavy rains to survive. What will I get by sending her to school?” he says. Arjunsingh wants her daughter to get married and is on the lookout for a suitable boy for her.

“I was unable to focus on the class while doing household chores,” says Prathamesh, recalling his first day of online classes

Juggling online classes with chores and livelihood demands is a recurring problem. Prathamesh Gavande, a Class 8 student of Adarsh High School Daryapur, had borrowed a phone from his neighbour for a few hours for the class. He does not own a smartphone himself. “I did not get free textbooks like we get every year. I want to buy a smartphone, so I am not spending money on textbooks,” he says. He sits under the shed of the tree at the chowk (main square) as the network quality and lighting there is good. He lives with his father, Umesh, who works as a labourer in Daryapur. He cooks food for the family and takes care of his younger sister and ill grandmother. “I cannot attend classes most of the time even when I want to. Sometimes Uncle needs his phone, sometimes I have a lot of household chores to do,” he says.

Like Prathamesh, most of the students in the village study in the school and colleges in Daryapur which is only 4 kilometers away. Some students go to the Zilla Parishad school in the village.

Sanika and Anushka (L-R) pose for a picture

Sanika and Anushka, daughters of martyr Nagesh Chaurpagar, study at the Zilla Parishad school in the village. The school was shut due to the lockdown and no online classes are being conducted. The girls spend most of their time playing with their friends and studying on their own.

According to Amit Bayaskar, who’s been teaching at the Zilla Parishad school the last six years, the school is likely to reopen for classes 9 to 12.

The Nitone boys want to join the Indian Army when they grow up

Swaraj and Swarit Nitone share their father’s smartphone. One mobile is not enough for two siblings, especially when their timetables clash. The boys study at Dnyanpeeth School in Daryapur. Swaraj is in class 5 and Swarit is in class 2. “Swaraj often helps Swarit in his studies but they fight often,” their mother Smita complains. Smita works at a farm as a labourer and her husband works at a shop in Daryapur. They do not have mobile network at home. Smita is worried about the drawbacks stemming from the lack of internet access. It takes a long time to download an image, online classes are a distant dream. The kids often accompany their parents at work.

Chorpagar family gets ready to pose

Occasionally, the problem isn’t one of access or means. The Chorpagar family is one of the well-off families in the village. They own land, a decent home, and individual mobiles for their kids to study online. “All our kids attend online classes,” says Sahebrao. “I can only force kids to study but cannot keep a check if they are studying or not. They often watch videos online and fool me,” 35-year-old Rama complains. With schools shut and students confined to their homes, parents are grappling with keeping children productive.