Digital divide: Addressing a major risk to continuing education
By Ashok Pandey & Amit Kumar
The 15th Finance Commission’s recent meeting with MHRD to deliberate upon the impact of Covid-19 and our response to meet the educational needs of school-going children holds much promise.
Much as we celebrate the achievements of the past three months of remote learning, the inherent inequalities in accessing the internet and other tools stand exposed too. UNICEF data reveals that in 71 countries, less than half the population has internet access. How did India respond to the learning needs of 400 million students?
The inequalities in education owing to access, quality, affordability, and accountability were already nagging our society. To ensure education continuity and a push for online learning, the centre announced its recovery and recalibration plan under Atmanirbhar strategy.
Unfortunately, disparities exist even in TV and radio ownership in many houses. Teachers have shared video lessons through social media channels. They are reaching out to the students through voice messages in regional languages and facilitating peer learning too. Opportunity, material and guidance model, hub and train model of teacher’s capacity building have worked as catalysts to learning. DIKSHA, PM e-Vidya portals and Swayam PrabhaTV channels promise to play an enabling role in achieving equity.
By integrating asynchronous methods such as podcasts, investigatory projects, and quizzes, we can strengthen the effectiveness of online classes. The learners could collaborate on the assignments, projects and group activities.
Parental support is critical in helping to drive robust online schooling. Schools will do well to leverage the energy and expertise of the parents to build capacities, culture and creativity. Schools can map the individual needs and pack the learning kits to deliver to homes of those with no access.
Another strategy to fill the gap in knowledge due to non-availability of the internet could be to inspire the children to “learn by doing” to build useful skills.
There are millions of smartphones lying unused in the middle to upper-middle-class homes, as per one estimate. To ensure that online learning reaches to the last child in the remote schools in India, donating spare working devices, such as phone/tablet/laptop/desktop/kindle, will be an act of zero-investment philanthropy.
While learners cannot wait to get back to the schools, the debate around the safe reopening of schools goes unabated. We should not wait, however, to make online education equitable. A hybrid of in-person education and online learning will be the new model for a foreseeable future. The digital divide is a risk to continuing education. A firmed-up plan in massive capacity building of teachers, investment in technology, content creation, focus on the vulnerable and the girls will mitigate the divide.
Pandey is Director, Ahlcon Group of schools, and Kumar, the founder-director, Shabda-Risk Assessment and Consultancy services