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India: Union calls for elementary school resumption to reduce digital divide

An Education International affiliate representing elementary school teachers in India has called on the government to fundamentally shift its approach to education. The union voiced its concern over growing inequality stemming from distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In India, the All India Primary Teachers’ Federation (AIPTF) has called on the country’s government to reduce the inequalities in education highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the government, the union acknowledged the government’s efforts to provide distance learning for elementary school students. However, the union also highlighted how only a minority of students have access to online classes. Only 15-20 per cent of children in rural areas and 30-40 per cent of children in urban areas can take advantage of distance learning, the union said.
The letter followed a virtual consultation of its affiliates in 24 States and expressed the union’s “concern over a deepening digital divide between the students and parents, which is not healthy for a just and humane society”. 
Resume in-person teaching
The AIPTF urged the government to abandon online classes for the elementary school level. It recommended the safe resumption of in-person teaching in public primary schools. This recommendation reflected union members’ concerns and the views of many experts in India.
In addition to increasing inequalities, online teaching is “adversely affecting the mental and physical wellbeing of children”, wrote union President Ram Pal Singh. “Distance learning should not be attempted until access, IT equipment, and skills are widely available to students, parents, and teachers.”
Strict hygiene measures in schools
The AIPTF proposed that small classes of eight to 10 children should be conducted. Classes should not resume, however, until schools had been sanitised and strict hygiene measures put in place. Recommended preparation measures include: 
  • Thorough cleaning and sanitation of schools that have been used as quarantine centres
  • The establishment of handwashing facilities
  • Ensuring that toilets function properly
  • Adjustment of infrastructure to allow social distancing
Salaries not paid for more than five months
The union’s letter, which was copied to relevant public authorities at State level, also raised the issue of non-payment of salaries. AIPTF affiliates have reported that, in some cases, salaries have not been paid for more than five months. The AIPTF demands that Central and State governments make the necessary arrangements to release teachers’ salaries immediately. 
Call for teachers’ voice to be heard
The union stated that it is seeking “to initiate a dialogue with government authorities on implementing policy matters in the post-pandemic phase which is directly related to teachers and students”. It called for an open dialogue with the union so that the teachers’ “perspective in classroom teaching is considered before decision-making”.
The full AIPTF letter to the government can be found here