Mubeen Masudi and Imbesat Ahmad, who run an academy that prepares students for highly competitive engineering colleges entrance exams, have struggled to impart education in the wake of the prolonged internet shutdown by India last August after the Muslim-majority region was stripped of its special status.
Though the communication lockdown was lifted earlier this year, the region of 12 million continues to be deprived of high-speed internet affecting more than a million students.
The duo, who graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), created two apps to circumvent the excruciatingly slow-speed internet in the Himalayan region.
India’s Hindu nationalist government has continued the ban on high-speed 4G internet on all mobile networks “owing to security reasons”, which entered its 16th month this month.
As students in other parts of India took to Zoom and other internet-driven applications to continue their education, children in Kashmir have to manage with low bandwidth internet, which meant frequent audio and video buffering issues and consistent call drops on applications such as Zoom and Google Meet.
Ahmad, 28, originally from the eastern state of Bihar, explains the conundrums he faced while teaching in Kashmir: “I remember during one of my classes I was drawing a figure in physics where I needed to show a video. I was drawing steps and explaining. While I was explaining step 3 from my side, the figure was at step 2 on students’ side.”
“Half of the students did not understand and the other half complained of buffering. The morale of students goes down drastically in such a situation,” says Ahmad, adding the struggle made them realize they need help to come up with a solution.
Ahmad created Filo App – application students can use to ask questions to educators. And the app, which was downloaded 11,000 times, works on low-speed internet.
Masudi founded Wise App – a live classroom application that focuses on teachers. Unlike Zoom and Google Meets which are widely used in the world, Masudi says Wise App was “born out of problems in Kashmir with regard to the internet”.
The 31-year-old says the app has been designed for conducting classes, sharing resources, holding discussions, and registering attendance on a single platform without the hurdle of sharing IDs and links.
“The application sends a notification to students as soon as the teacher logs in the app,” said Masudi. “We designed the app so that it works on low-speed internet. Around 30,000 users are based in Kashmir,” he said.
The residents of Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan valley that is divided between and contested by India and Pakistan, face frequent internet shutdowns. In an annual report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the local human rights group said “there were 55 instances of internet blockades recorded in the year 2019”.
GN War, who heads the association of private schools in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera: “Low-speed internet has put Kashmiri students in a disadvantageous situation.”
“We are unable to render effective online learning and teaching services. Most of the apps in the field of online education are 4G based. The teachers and students in such a situation often feel frustrated,” War said.
However, the students in Kashmir are at a disadvantage because of the frequent closure of schools, snapping and low-speed internet, war said.—KMS