The Karnataka High Court has directed the State Government to by April 22, come out with concrete steps it will take to ensure access to education through virtual classes until the physical classes for students recommences in the state.
A division bench of Justice B V Nagarathna and Justice J.M.Khazi said "It is necessary for state and its departments to rise to the occasion and ensure that Fundamental Rights guaranteed to children in the age group of 6 to 14 years, under Article 21-A is ensured."
The bench added "It is needless to observe on account of the pandemic and when physical classes are impossible, then whether virtual classes could continue is a significant consideration to be made. If the virtual classes are to be held for students then the need of the students who have no access to technology so as to participate in virtual classes becomes significant."
The bench issued the direction after the government advocate informed the court that owing to steep increase in Covid-19, cases which are affecting even the children, the state government has taken a decision to discontinue schools for children in 6 to 9 standard upto April 20. As far as 10th 11th 12th standards are concerned physical presence in classes is optional and even Vidyagama programme has been discontinued. The students are being provided with dry rations till April 21. Moreover, as an when situation emerges suitable decision will be taken by state to meet the challenges on account of the pandemic.
The court also directed the state to consider its earlier directions for making available technology to students who are in need of in the form of tablet and smartphone, and wifi-connections.
Senior Advocate Harish B Narasappa appearing for the petitioners by A. A. Sanjeev Narrain, Arvind Narrain and Murali Mohan submitted that despite challenges arising from Covid-19 pandemic, there is need for the department to ensure that students who are already within the system of school education, do not drop out and secondly out of school children must be brought back to the education system. Also, those children who have not yet entered the school education system must be brought in.
Narasappa also contended that the department must have a plan ready so that all the three categories children referred to above are ultimately brought within the school education system and are retained within the system, so as to comply with the mandate of Article 21-A of constitution and also provisions of RTE Act, 2005.
He pointed to the court that those students who are unable to access the requisite technology for receiving instructions from the teachers through online methods are deprived of their Right To Education, particularly under, Article 21-A of the constitution.
Accordingly, he urged the court to direct the state to come out with a concrete plan to lessen the gap between urban and rural students and those students who have access to technology and those who do not have such an access.
He added "Access to education through the means of technology is need of the hour. It is required to ensure that students remain within the education system and to reduce drop out of children and their diversion to other activities such as child labour or driven to child marriage or child trafficking."
The court agreed to the submission made and orally said "State has to rise to the occasion. We know the State has several contingencies to take note of because of challenge of the pandemic. But what about the effects of the pandemic on education, economy? All these are there not just health."
The court then directed the state and its department to come out with concrete steps as to how it will ensure access to education through virtual classes until the physical classes are to recommence.
It even suggested that one of the ways through which education could be continuously imparted is through having more television channels dedicated to imparting students with instruction with a common time table so that government and aided school children could have access through the medium of television/radio.
The case will be next heard on April 22.