In Mizoram, some student bodies and organisations, including the Young Mizo Association (YMA), the influential youth body in the state, have come up with the idea of setting up makeshift huts on hilltops to cope with poor internet connectivity as students are writing their examinations online.
Commencing from first June, Mizoram University (MZU) has been conducting even-semester examinations for about 24,000 undergraduate students in various departments or courses online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MZU controller of examinations Prof. Lalnuntluanga said.
“This is the third time the MZU is holding online examinations for students during the pandemic since last year. Amid pandemic we have no other option but to conduct examinations on online mode despite poor internet connectivity across the state,” he said.
Mizoram is a landlocked state with hilly terrain, deep valleys, gorges and plains scatter here and there.
Although mobile towers are erected and internet service providers like BSNL, Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone-Idea are spreading across the state, the physical feature of the land has obstructed good mobile internet connectivity even in cities and towns, which inconvenienced several students, who are writing their examinations online.
Moreover, many villages are yet to be covered by mobile networks.
Left with no other option, a YMA branch in Tlabung town in Lunglei district bordering Bangladesh and a Siaha based Mara Students’ Organisation (MSO) in the southern part of the state have recently constructed temporary huts made of bamboo, tarpaulin and banana tree leaves on hilltop to cope with poor internet connectivity and ease students of their inconvenience.
In Mawhrei, a small village in south Mizoram Siaha district bordering Myanmar, students used to trek about 2 km through forest to write for their examinations at a makeshift bamboo constructed at Tlao-tla hilltop, where internet facility was accessible.
The temporary hut was constructed under the initiative of MSO, a Mara ethnic student body.
Mawhrei is located about 428 km from Mizoram capital Aizawl and 110 km from Siaha town.
MSO general secretary Judson KT Zephatha told said that at least 23 undergraduate students from the villages are currently writing their even-semester examinations.
He said that the village has no mobile tower and 2G internet facility is irregularly accessible sometimes.
“The students used to go for about 2 km uphill trek through the forest to reach the hut and return to their village after writing their examinations there,” he said.
Not only students writing examinations are trekking to the hilltop but also those taking online classes also used to go there sometimes carrying benches for their use, he said.
Zephatha said that the student body had made several appeals to the state government and internet service providers to improve the mobile network in Siaha district but to no avail.
Last year the organisation had to even call for a shutdown on telecom companies, including BSNL, in Siaha district due to poor services, he said.
In Tlabung, a border town located about 250 km from Aizawl, Zodin branch of YMA also constructed a Mawhrei-like hut at an elevated ground in the town where internet facility is smooth to facilitate students write their examinations
Though there are three internet service providers, internet facility is very poor everywhere in the border town, a local leader Vanlalhriatpuia said.
He said that the Zodin branch YMA constructed the temporary hut to facilitate online examinations for all students from three YMA branches across the town.
In Mizoram southernmost Lawngtlai district, the timely intervention of the Lai Students’ Association (LSA) has averted severe internet connectivity crisis this time.
“Before the commencement of online examinations, we have approached authorities of internet service providers, who boosted their services in the district,” LSA president F. Vanlalruatpuia said.
There was no report of Mawhrei like situation in the district this time though internet issues were there during online examinations last year, he added.
Meanwhile, State Information and Communication Technology minister Robert Romawia Royte said that the state government has been making efforts to resolve the internet connectivity crisis in the state from the beginning and constituted a task force to deal with the issue though it is not a state’s subject.
However, public movement is difficult due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown and better internet connectivity is not possible (desirable) in every part of the state at this point of time due to the hilly terrain of the state.
He said that internet and mobile service is the subject of the Central government and not the state government’s responsibility.
Intra-state or inter-district movement is restricted by the government due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
However, students, who are writing for online examinations, are allowed to travel to cities and towns to avail better internet connectivity despite lockdown.
Under this online mode, question papers are sent by email to heads of respective exam centres or college principals, who sent them to the students in WhatsApp groups, according to Lalnuntluanga.
The students downloaded the question papers and answered the questions on plain papers for 3 hours and mailed back the scanned copies of answer scripts to their respective exam centres, he said.
There are 28 affiliated colleges and one constituent college (Pachhunga University College) under MZU.
The ongoing online examination for undergraduate students will end on June 28.