Jaya Rani removed the cover from her mobile phone to reveal its bloated back, presumably due to a swollen battery.Not only does it lag and heat up easily, but the camera has also become blurry.Over the past year, Jaya’s Huawei Y5 phone has been subjected to heavy-duty use.Being the only electronic device at home, five of her children six children have been sharing it for their online lessons since schools closed in March 2020.For up to seven hours every day, Priyashini, Neevashini, Jivanesh, Shiruanesh and Sharvinesh take turns staring into the small 5-by-2-inch LCD screen.Neevashini using her mother's phone for online classes.They check WhatsApp and Telegram groups for homework instructions, watch lessons on YouTube, attend classes on Google Meet, video call teachers, submit assignments and refer to answer sheets to mark their own work.Met one recent afternoon at their home in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, 12-year-old Neevashini was struggling to load a video for her Physical Education class.rrrr Despite buying a prepaid top-up two days earlier, Jaya’s phone had run out of internet data yet again.With no wireless internet at home, mobile phone internet is all there is. As much as they try to benefit from the 2am to 10am free data window, data still runs out.From right: Jaya Rani, Neevashini and Jivanesh. The family struggles with the lack of dataJaya let out an embarrassed laugh and said she ought to change her phone battery, get a new device or buy a second phone.But in a family of eight with only two income sources amidst a pandemic, money is tight.“Even if I had another phone, I would have to buy top-up for it as well.“Sometimes buying top-ups for one phone is already hard enough.“My husband supports all of us, and he pays for everyone’s tuition fees and school transport. My eldest child also works, and she tries to help out with the expenses, but her salary isn’t much,” she told Malaysiakini when interviewed.Her husband Sankar works as a driver at a nearby private hospital, while her eldest daughter Riyashini is a store assistant at a fabric shop in town.Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Jaya’s homemaker duties included cleaning the house and cooking for her family. She would wind down by watching television or speaking on the phone with her relatives.These days, she cleans and cooks while supervising her energetic children to ensure they keep up with their online lessons, barely able to catch her breath.As her phone is their only access to education, she has not been able to use it herself.Jaya saw this as a minor sacrifice on her part and said she contemplated looking for a job to help with the household finances.Jaya Rani with her cheeky twin boys, Shiruanesh and Sharvinesh.However, childcare expenses alone would cost too much. Her youngest twin boys just turned seven years old.“If I went out to work and let someone take care of my children, my salary would go towards paying for that,” she said.The best she can offerPetite with a bright smile, 44-year-old Jaya said she dreamed of being a seamstress when growing up in Medan, Indonesia.However, her parents lacked the financial means to support her after high school. This led her to take a factory job in Negeri Sembilan, where she met and later married Sankar.She received her permanent residency status last year after 19 years of marriage.“I wanted to learn how to sew, but my siblings were young at the time, and my parents didn’t have enough money.“Now we really want our children to be able to continue with their education after school so they won’t be like us. I hope they can work in an office someday,” Jaya shared.With limited data and time on their mother’s device, her children admitted they often handed in homework late and were behind their peers.They were nevertheless grateful they even had a mobile phone at all.Jaya had been getting more and more worried about the impact of digital discrepancies on her children’s future.She was thus relieved when the government announced that schools would reopen this month.Jaya overseeing Jivanesh and Neevashini as the children complete their homework.Looking back on the past 12 months, Jaya admitted there were shortcomings but believed she had done all she could.“For me, this was the best I could give to my children.“It is just one phone, but it was my best,” she said.Malaysiakini is running a series of articles from March 8-10 in celebration of International Women’s Day 2021. Read more here.
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