Jaipur: The closure of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic has affected millions of students across India. While private schools have tried to keep classes going online, for students enrolled in government schools, 2020 has turned out to be a zero academic year.
Neither do the government schools have the infrastructure to provide classes online, nor the students have laptops or smartphones available to attend these classes. In the absence of both offline and online learning, students dependent on state-run schools have lost one year of their academic life.
It’s not just a matter of a year; for many students, this break has become the primary reason to drop out of school. A disruption in classes combined with growing financial instability at home has pushed many students from poor households to look for work.
Divyanshu, a class eight student from Buratiba basti in Jaipur’s Harmada, lives with his 28-year-old aunt, 12-year-old sister and 90-year-old grandmother.
His father died when he six years old, following which their mother abandoned them. When Divyanshu was seven, his aunt Sanu got divorced and since then, she has been taking care of Divyanshu, his younger sister and grandmother.
Working as a cook, Sanu has been the sole earning member in the family. She used to earn Rs 5,000 per month. However, after the national lockdown was imposed in March to control the spread of COVID-19, she was not called in to work. Her employer supported her with some ration to survive the lockdown.
Sanu then tried to find a job to work as a cook in other households, but found nothing.
A few months ago, she got to know that a tile shop owner was looking for young boys to work, as the previously employed labourers returned to their villages during the lockdown. She asked Divyanshu if he was willing to take the job, and he agreed.
For the past two months, Divyanshu is working at the tile shop in the city.
“We are not covered under any scheme by which we could get any monetary help or ration. So, we had no option but to send Divyanshu to work. He simply attends to clients at the shop and does some petty errands,” Sanu told The Wire.
Seventeen-year-old Sandeep would have joined Class 11 this year, if the schools were not closed. He had even decided to opt for the science stream, with biology.
Sandeep’s parents work as drummers at weddings. After weddings became much smaller during the pandemic, drummers have lost their livelihoods. To support his family, Sandeep too took up a job, like Divyanshu.
“I’m the oldest child in my family. I have three more siblings,” said Sandeep. He has taken a job at a private agency that provides students counselling for admissions in colleges. He leaves for work at 8 am and returns at 7 pm.
“They hired me because I speak confidently. There, I tell the students about the seats available and how should they fill the seat matrix,” he added.
Sandeep also said that an NGO pays a few older children in their basti to give tuitions to the students of classes up to eighth, but there is no tuition facility available for students of Class 10, 11 and 12. “Had there been any free tuition facility available for me, I would have taken out some time to study along with going to work,” he said.
Those students who are not going out to work are made to sit at their family shops.
Sixteen-year-old Dhanraj would have been in Class 10 this year. Despite the closure of schools, he has continued his studies. A bachelor of education aspirant named Rohit teaches him maths and science at Rs 250 per month.
“Class 10 is important. I wanted to score good marks but the school is not providing any classes. Even the content shared by the teachers on WhatsApp doesn’t help in learning at all,” Dhanraj told The Wire.
Dhanraj’s family owns a confectionary shop and his father used to manage it. However, post the lockdown, their profits have fallen. To support their shrinking income, Dhanraj’s father makes him sit at the shop while he goes out to find some other work.
“We cannot survive just from the shop’s income. Post the lockdown, people are not buying anything other than essential items,” said Dhanraj’s father. “We never wanted to divert Dhanraj’s attention from studies but who else do we have to support the family in these challenging times?”
Rajkumar Regar (17) has a similar story. He is a Class 12 arts stream student who joined an anaj mandi as a labourer in September to add to his family’s income. There, he earned Rs 230 per day.
After working for 15 days, he had to leave the mandi as there was no work left. Regar is looking for any other job now.
“After the schools closed, we were just wasting time sitting at home. It’s better to work than to put our mind and energy into useless things,” he says.
On asking whether he would leave his job when schools reopen, he said, “No matter how much we study, till Class 12 or graduation, our labour will be worth only between Rs 250 and Rs 500 per day.”