A recent incident of suicide by a Kerala schoolgirl allegedly over not having access to a smartphone to attend online classes has shaken the nation to a great extent. Some of the other cases include stories of students in remote areas having to sit on rooftops to catch the Internet and siblings competing to get their parents’ gadgets.
People can debate these issues. These could be secluded cases of struggle by students to attend online classes but they reflect the larger challenge of the “digital divide” across the country which has been the talking point during COVID 19 pandemic. These incidents could have a catastrophic impact on students as well asthe numbers of students enrolling in the classes as those without digital access are at the risk of dropping out altogether, experts have warned.
Shift to the online mode of education during Coronavirus pandemic
The ongoing COVID 19 pandemic situation has led to a shift from offline to the online mode of classroom learning. From virtual classrooms to open-book exams, substantial changes are happening all around in the education system. We all are aware that schools and universities across the country have been shut since March 16, when the Indian government announced a nationwide classroom closure as part of a slew of measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to official statistics, there are over 35 crore students in the country. Although, it is not clear as to how many of them have access to digital devices and the Internet.While the Indian government has announced an easing of certain restrictions, schools and colleges continue to remain closed.
Is India ready for the digital dynamism in education?
Speaking on the digital dynamism a Delhi College professor said, “It’s good that we now have moved on-line for educating and studying to make sure that education will not be fully suspended. However, there’s a flip-side to it too.
When the world has moved under the roof and expertise has taken over main roles, the digital have-nots are pushed to the sting. Eventually, they are going to be overlooked by the race. “The scholars in rural India or the poor populace in city centers are having excessive difficulties in utilizing such providers and we don’t have any coverage in place to handle that. In a means, we’re solely heading in direction of an operational nightmare”.
The professor is amongst a bunch of 4 college members who’ve written a letter to President Ram NathKovind in opposition to Delhi College’s resolution to conduct on-line exams via open-book mode, saying it is going to push college students belonging to economically weaker part and people with disabilities on the improper facet of the digital divide.
According to Sangeeta D Gadre, a professor at Kirori Mal Faculty, “Schooling is the best equalizer however the coronavirus disaster has come as a setback to this journey in necessary methods. When colleges and faculties transfer on-line, college students with lesser digital entry get additional deprived, and people with none digital entry are susceptible to dropping out altogether. “Particularly, on the faculty stage, the digital divide poses a threat of nullifying a few of India’s hard-won enrolment good points”.
A college principal in Haryana’s Mewat, who refused to be recognized, mentioned, “The digital disparity is rising starker as extra colleges start to undertake digital instruments.” “We’re studying rather a lot about how studying is occurring on-line, however aren’t in a position to implement it right here (Mewat) for the easy purpose that not everybody has entry to a smartphone or Web. There might be no shortcuts to either learning or inclusivity. Our policy-makers want to handle the truth that on-line programs will exclude quite a few college students,” she mentioned.
These sentiments have been further validated by theKey Indicators of Family Social Consumption on Schooling in India report, primarily based on the 2017-18 Nationwide Sample Survey. According to this report, lower than 15 percent of rural Indian households have entry to Web versus 42 percent in city households. A meager 13 percent of individuals surveyed (aged above 5) in rural areas — simply 8.5 percent feminine — may use the internet. The poorest households cannot afford a smartphone or a personal computer or laptop.
Digital education – The way forward
Thanks to the current pandemic, India is currently witnessing an e-learning boom. Classes on Zoom, WhatsApp and Skype are becoming the new normal. The future implications of school closures in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic are not just about education. They are manifold. “An unimagined social disaster can be averted if more entities pitch into short-term and long-term future of the children in this digital divide,” said RajniPalriwala, HOD, Department of Sociology, Delhi University.
Talking on this issue, Infosys Chairman NandanNilekani says that the shift to online learning is only a “short-term response”.Nilekani further adds that “Reassessing education and staying ahead of the curve should be the number 1 priority for the government right now. For households devoid of access to smartphones or feature phones, we will have to use our physical infrastructure”.
“People may not have a digital device but they could be close to a digital service center which will have the devices. Worksheets can be delivered to students and once the student finishes those worksheets it can be delivered back to the centers. The centers can then upload the worksheet. Himachal is doing this. We will have to innovate the education delivery mechanism,” he said at a virtual conference on “Reimagining Education”.
UrvashiSahni, a fellow on the Middle for Common Schooling on the Brookings Establishment, mentioned, “Know-how has the potential to realize common high-quality training and enhance studying outcomes. However, to unleash its potential, the digital divide (and the embedded gender divide) have to be addressed”. “Entry to expertise and Web is a pressing requirement within the info age. It ought to now not be luxurious,” she mentioned.