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Mumbai Urdu Teachers Start Free Mobile Phone Libraries for Online Classes of Poor Students

Free mobile phone library run by BMC Urdu teachers in Bhendi Bazar, Mumbai

Mumtaz Alam | Inclusive India

New Delhi/ Mumbai, October 24— As schools continue to be closed due to the Coronavirus-driven lockdown clamped in March this year, tens of thousands of students whose parents can’t afford smartphones for online classes are facing loss of academic year. The situation has impressed Urdu teachers of Mumbai civic body schools and private schools to come forward and open free mobile phone libraries for such students in the commercial capital of the country.

Mumbai Municipal & Private Urdu Teachers Union started their second digital e-learning library at Behram Nager in Bandra East this Thursday (October 22). They had opened their first library in Bhendi Bazar. They plan to open next library in Andheri and fourth one in Malad.

Javed Ansari (red shirt) along with teachers at opening of second mobile phone library in Bandra East

Students of the locality come to the facility in batches and attend their online classes on smartphones. Each period is of 45 minutes and in each batch, there are 15-20 students. The library is open from 8 am in the morning till 8 pm in the night.

Talking to Inclusive India, Javed Ansari, President, Mumbai Municipal Corporation Urdu Teachers’ Union, said the condition of thousands of children from poor families forced them to do something on their own, rather than just waiting for government to do.

“As lockdown was imposed to check spread of Coronavirus, schools were closed and later online classes were started. We found that 60,000 of our students from BMC schools don’t have mobile phones and so they are not attending online classes. Some families have 4-5 children and they have only one mobile, so it was difficult for them to manage all,” said Ansari.

He discussed the issue with some teachers and decided to set some example for the society. They decided to open e-learning library where children are brought in batches and provided mobile phones with internet connection so that they could attend.

“Initially, some teachers individually donated amount from their pockets to purchase mobiles. Then our BMC Urdu Teachers’ Union donated some fund for this cause. With that amount, we started our first e-learning lab in Bhendi Bazar. First we had thought that we would donate mobiles to students. Then we thought that one mobile will be used by only one student. Mobile is also costly. So purchasing so many mobiles was not easy. Then we thought about opening an education library where we will keep mobiles and wifi internet connection and our teachers will also be there to guide the students,” he said.

“Some students of class X were facing big loss. Some parents came to us and told us that five months have passed since the lockdown and they have not attended a single class. I was very sad about the situation because the year they are losing cannot be returned. Everything will be ok after Corona is gone but their academic year cannot return,” said Ansari.

These Urdu teachers have purchased new mobiles for children. As the news about the initiative is spreading, people are coming up and extending support. “But given the huge requirement, we need to do lot. There are 10 mobiles at each centre.”

“When we opened our library in Bhendi Bazar and Times of India covered it, local people came up and extended their help. Yesterday, some people donated mobiles. Some have asked us to present their requirements and they will arrange things,” said the union president.

The initiative has not got any support from the civic body. Ansari says that sometimes people should come forward for the society, rather than just waiting for government support.

“The civic body is itself facing loss as due to lockdown, tax collection is poor. It is great that we teachers are getting salaries on time. Why should we always expect support from government? Can’t we come forward? We always raise finger at system but forget our own responsibilities,” he said.

If Poor Families Not Provided Support, Child Labour May Rise: Javed Ansari

BMC Urdu Teachers’ Union President has expressed apprehension about rise in child labour if children from poor families are not provided support to attend online classes.

“We have got information that 60,000 students are unable to attend online classes, and parents of many of them are forced to push them for work. It is feared they would become child labour. If a child gets involved in earning and work, it will be difficult to bring them back to education. Education is fundamental right of children. As per Right to Education Act, children from 6-15 years have right to get compulsory education,” said Ansari.

His plan is to expand the capacity of each library so that 900 students could benefit each day from one facility.

“Our plan is to cover 900 students from one library. If children living in this area don’t have mobile phones to attend online classes, they will have to come here and register themselves. Children are getting all facilities here. We are following social distancing norms and providing sanitization, water and toilet facilities.”

Yuwa Foundation is providing them space for sitting. They take care of sanitization, mask, thermometer for daily fever check.

Students from Class II to X are availing the facility where online classes in five medium — Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, English and Gujarati – are provided.

“We are appealing to people to support this initiative,” said Javed Ansari who has plan to open such libraries across Mumbai.