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a classroom high up in a tree… to teach online

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In April and May, India was hit by a second deadly wave of Covid-19 which, among other things, led to the closure of schools. To continue giving lessons online, a teacher in the remote village of Mullur, in the state of Karnataka, found a solution to persistent problems with internet access: he built a classroom… on top of a tree .

According to a February 2021 survey by the organization Learning Spiral, which provides online exams in India, half of India’s student population does not have internet access. Across the country, students are forced to walk sometimes several kilometers, or climb hills, to reach areas where it is possible to connect. Still others climb trees, hoping to pick up the signal from a distant mobile phone tower.

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the rural village of Mullur in southwestern India, these recurring problems with internet access have made it difficult to set up online courses. CS Satheesha, teacher of a class of 34 pupils in a public primary school, therefore had the idea of ​​giving lessons since April… on top of a mango tree, near his home.

When I gave my classes online, I had a bad connection. I thought if I climbed a tree I would get a better network. And that was the case: I then built a cabin in this same tree. There are many difficulties [à donner cours à la maison, NDLR]. At home, there are network problems, children making noise, television… that’s why I built this cabin, where I put all kinds of school equipment to allow me to teach .

“I googled how to build a tree house”

In India, most people rely on 4G mobile networks rather than WiFi connections. Elevated six meters above the ground, Satheesha’s treetop classroom receives better signals from nearby mobile phone towers due to low interference from buildings and trees that could weaken the signal.

For two months, CS Satheesha made her cabin out of bamboo, hay, and other natural materials found in the area. Cables now connect his classroom to a source of electricity in his home. The total cost of this improvised classroom: nearly 5,000 rupees (about 56 euros).

Even at school, I was already spending money on my students. It is the same amount that was invested here. I used all the materials I could find in my house, so I didn’t spend a lot. I googled how to build a treehouse, and did all the work myself. It wasn’t difficult, because I really wanted to have a good classroom. Now we have a very good network connection and the classes are running successfully.

CS Satheesha built his treehouse singlehandedly, using materials around his house. © CS Satheesha

CS Satheesha built his treehouse singlehandedly, using materials around his house.
CS Satheesha built his treehouse singlehandedly, using materials around his house. © CS Satheesha

I now teach online using Google Meet and students respond to me easily. I get good results and I’m happy to teach in a real classroom, without any disturbance. Student participation and responses have improved and this shows how eager they are to learn.

Unequal access to the Internet

Across the world, the pandemic has exposed major “digital divides” and made it difficult to work from home and attend online classes.

>> READ ALSO ON THE OBSERVERS: In Iran, children forced to climb mountains to be able to follow their lessons online

In India, this divide is particularly pronounced. Urban areas have an Internet penetration rate of 99%, while rural areas reach only 33%. CS Satheesha invited students in her village to use a particular mobile phone provider, which provides better service in her area. He also advises them to test the network around their home, to find the location with the best reception to follow the courses.

But beyond internet access, students also need the right devices to attend their classes online. Many use smartphones that often belong to their parents and are shared among several children within families. According to a study by the Indian Ministry of Education published on 1er July, 3.1 million students in the state of Karnataka do not have a device to access the Internet, and 3.7 million do not have Internet access.

A mentoring program, in which teachers meet every two weeks with parents of students without internet access, has been launched to help maintain the continuity of learning in rural Indian communities. The government has also launched a plan to bring high-speed internet services to rural villages, but Covid-19 has delayed this project.

Internet availability issues have also affected the vaccination campaign in India, preventing some residents from booking appointments online on dedicated sites.


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