A ‘Happy’ app which makes millions of Iranian students sad
By MECRA STAFF
After the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible for students to attend schools in Iran, the country’s Ministry of Education developed a cellphone platform for communication between students and their teachers. The souvenir of the Minister of Education for these children is an application named ‘Shad’ which translates to ‘happy’ in English. Unfortunately, widespread poverty in parts of Iran make it impossible for many students to use this app. As a result, the coronavirus is exacerbating and increasing inequalities in Iran.
A number of recent news stories in the Iranian media illustrate the effects that poverty and harsh social conditions have on the lives of young people in the poorer parts of Iran:
Zeinab was an 11 year old student from Ilam province, western Iran. According to Iranian media reports, she committed suicide on April 12, 2020 suffering from harsh poverty. Zeinab was resident along with five other family members in a dwelling measuring 50 square meters. Her father was disabled.
Thousands of students in Sistan and Balouchestan province still are holding their classes in tents with no chairs
Last week, a 10-year-old child in one of the makeshift cabins that was made for survivors of the 2018 Sarpol-Zahab earthquake lost his life after being electrocuted.
In recent years Iran has experienced a number of school fires that resulted in 52 severe injuries and 12 deaths. Thousands of students in Sistan and Balouchestan province still are holding their classes in tents with no chairs, no desktop and not even a blackboard. This province has the record on under-equipped schools in Iran, and the number of tent schools there is higher than in other parts of the country.
Despite the lack in providing proper and safe schools in the last years, the government insists on online education, and has created the ‘Shad’ app for students to be used on smartphones. But there are children who live under severely poor conditions, some of them in poverty. These childrens’ families do not have the means to provide them with the up to date smartphones necessary to download the app.
The Shad Student Education Network, established in order to enable online communication between teachers, has been in effect since April 19, 2020. Students are required to attend online classes. The apps opens up by reciting Quran verses and the Iranian national anthem every morning at 8 AM. However, it is not possible to use it for a range of students, especially millions of low-income families who cannot afford to purchase new generation smartphones.
According to the Deputy Minister of Public Relations and Information of the Ministry of Education, Iran has over 14 million students. Over 8 million of them are in elementary grade. 9 million students/teachers/parents have so far joined the platform.
“The Happy app brings more sadness to Iranian families and their children,” a teacher from Kerman the 10th most populated city in Iran said, speaking to MECRA. She also added that “ It should be possible for all students to access it, but many of them have been deprived of this program due to a number of problems.”
This teacher has 31 students and only 9 of them own a smart phone to install the app so that they could attend the online class. “Many families can't afford the technology they need to access the internet and smartphones. I have students whose parents do not have the money to send them to school, me and other teachers are trying to support them. The majority of my students’ fathers are seasonal workers and because of coronavirus they could not raise enough to afford their families’ daily necessities.”
“Another colleague of mine has students who use their parents' phones. What should they do when their online classroom is held and their parents are at work?”, the teacher asked.
Another teacher in Tehran told MECRA: “There are large families with four or five students, and it is not possible for all of them to get a smartphone, and even if they use the phone together, they will have problems.”
By considering the critical economical situation of the majority of the families, a general education program should have been developed that all could access. Poor children stare at the smartphones of others and it makes their parents feel guilty for being poor. The exact number of internet access rates is not officially known, even if we assume that maximum 30% of students are deprived of online education for reasons such as lack of internet connection or lack of smartphones, a significant number of students community, it will be a high figure that cannot be simply ignored.
“There are large families with four or five students, and it is not possible for all of them to get a smartphone, and even if they use the phone together, they will have problems.”
There are other problems about “Shad” that are rooted in Iran’s old network infrastructures. Sending files and voices takes a long time because of low connectivity speed, and sometimes it takes so long that the teacher's patience runs out. Classes begin at 8 AM but by 1 PM the teaching videos on Shad network have not yet been uploaded.
A phone shop owner, speaking to MECRA, explained that an average of 40 people with their children visit his store to repair their old phones hoping that it could make the phones compatible with installing the Shad app. “I try to fix them but the old versions cannot be upgraded and therefore they cannot install the app. When they are disappointed, they ask for the most cheap smartphones; and even those are not affordable for them to buy. I witness parents eyes everyday when they see the prices they hold their children’s hands and leave the store in tears,” the store owner concluded.
Non-official estimates suggest that the average rate of registration throughout the country is 24.6% of all students. The Kurdistan and Sistan Balouchestan provinces hold the lowest rate record of access to the app, while the capital Tehran is on the top of the chart by 43.1%.