No Additional Fees for Online Learning
Recently the High Court of Kerala passed the order in a writ petition filed by parents of two students studying in 3rd Grade and LKG respectively challenging the decision of their school to demand payment of fees even without providing quality virtual class room teaching or online classes. The petitioners also raised the grievance that the State Government has not issued proper guidelines for online classes. In the absence of clear instructions on online classes, teachers are passing of mere voice clips as if they would amount to online classes.
The High Court passed an interim order restraining the school from levying additional fees on students for holding virtual classes. In view of the ‘substantial public interest involved’ the writ petition was referred to the Division Bench for hearing. While making the reference the Court also observed that the right to education is sacrosanct in the Constitution of India and is mandated under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The Court also noted that several States have ordered that students should not be denied education for want of fees during this pandemic period.
Due to Covid-19 pandemic schools are yet to open and this has paved the way for educational institutions providing online classes to students. This contingency has raised questions regarding accessibility of education to all. E-education cannot be limited to privileged students at the exclusion of millions of children who have no smart phones or devices for internet connectivity.
Under Article 21-A of the Constitution education is a fundamental right for children aged 6 to 14 years. Some states have started various types of digital or mobile technology methods for children. However, with limited access to data and smart phones, children of under privileged families are at a disadvantage. The case of the 14 year- old Class IX girl student in Kerala who ended her life for lack of a mobile phone or television at home to attend to online classes could be an extreme and exceptional one.
Therefore, in order to comply with the Constitutional mandate it is the duty of the State and all educational institutions to ensure that all the students have access to online education by providing them with smart phones and other devices to access online education. Every crisis, natural or man-made poses serious problems and challenges, and it is our responsibility to convert them into constructive opportunities.