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Srinagar: Twenty-one-year-old B.Sc student Suriya Manzoor has missed out on the online classes as no one in her family has a smartphone.

Hailing from Tenpuna village in Pulwama district, Suriya has not attended a single online class because her father owns an old Nokia handset. This is the only phone that the entire family uses for communication.

“I am not able to attend classes like my other classmates. Neither am I able to appear in online tests nor submit any assignment or project work. If lockdown continues all of my classmates will be promoted based on internal assessments and I will be left out,” she said.

Surya is not alone in the family to face the dilemma. She has four other sisters who too are pursuing graduation but are unable to attend online classes. “My father is a farmer and he cannot afford smartphones for us,” she said.

Surya is not an isolated case. Seerat Gulzar, another student pursuing graduation from Government Degree College, Pampore, has also not been able to join online classes as her mother has a Jio mobile phone which does not have smart features and her father is a labourer.

“We cannot afford a smartphone. My brother, who is in the 8th standard, is also not able to continue his studies ever since the lockdown began. I am very worried about my future. I wanted to continue my education to help my father, but I am helpless. All other classmates are making good use of this lockdown but I am not,” lamented Seerat.

Due to the lockdown, the government has directed all educational institutions to start online classes across the valley. However, the switch over from classroom teaching to online education has left economically backward students in the lurch.  

A lecturer at Government Women Degree College, Pulwama, said there is a very thin attendance in online classes. “Many students are economically weak and cannot afford smartphones. They miss out on their classes,” he said.

A professor at Kashmir University said of the 62 students only 22 students attend his online classes. “When I enquired about absentees, I was shocked to know that they don’t have smartphones. Only those students can avail online classes who can afford smartphones and internet connection,” he said.

He proposed that the government should distribute gadgets among the students belonging to impoverished families so that they too can join the learning process.

Sensing the problem, Kashmir University has asked heads of departments to procure smartphones/note pads and make them available to the needy students and teachers.

“However, teachers and students shall have to return the device (once the online classes are wound up). The purchase shall be made out of the local funds,” reads a document accessed by The Kashmir Monitor.

Director colleges, Mohammad Yaseen Shah admitted that many students cannot afford smartphones. “These students should visit their respective colleges to get the study material,” he said.

 Shah said that internal assessment will also be done in offline mode. “We will give them project work, which they need to submit to the college.”

Director of School Education, Kashmir, Younis Malik, and Principal Secretary to Government, School Education Department, Asgar Hassan Samoon were not available for comments.

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