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Virtual Education - A Reality For Every Child?!

Virtual Education - A Reality For Every Child?!

E-learning continues to remain a privilege for select few. India Task Force on Covid-19 states that nationwide, only 24% of Indian households have access to an education emergency is rapidly taking shape. A little over 15% of rural households have access to internet services. [1]

Just as schools were preparing to reopen, the second wave of the pandemic has again thrown life out of gear. While health and livelihood are bearing direct brunt of the viral onslaught, an education emergency is rapidly taking shape. Schools are forced to continue with virtual education, but with around 1.2 million government and 400,000 private schools are not equipped monetarily and infrastructure-wise, to provide technology-based learning to children, learning remains elusive to the most vulnerable and marginalised children across the country.

Of the poorest households, only 2.7% have access to a computer and 8.9% to internet facilities.[1] Further, only 8% of households with members aged between five and 24 have both accesses to internet and digital devices, creating a learning gap that is only expanding with time.

At the other end of the billion-dollar Ed-tech boom are the children who have been unable to access the most basic forms of online education.

Dwindling Aspirations

Suhani, a student of class VI, always aspired to become a lawyer. Her mother, who worked at a garment unit, lost her job last year when the factory shut its operations. Her father employed in Gulf is the sole breadwinner of the family. Her two brothers have already been shifted to the government school from the private school and she would join them too in the coming session. Her mother said, “I want my children to have the best of education, but I can no longer afford a private school. We managed to get a second-hand smart phone from a kind neighbour, but all three of them cannot study together. Suhani’s determination belies grim realities of her and many of her peers’ lives.

Teachers and principals put down many challenges that rural children are facing to come online and continue with their learning. They share that online meeting platforms & classrooms are beyond children’s reach. WhatsApp is a common medium; however, they have largely managed on-ground with printed handouts given to students at their homes.

Most households have just one Smartphone, which largely remains unavailable throughout day. We fear a steep increase in school dropout, and worse that many will never return to school as they have gone back to labour work to earn livelihood.

Turning Challenges to Opportunities

Millions of children may remain without brick-and-mortar schools for some time to come. This is an opportunity to reimaging and modernise the concept of learning. Many non-profits are already working in this direction; however, collaborations at all levels are needed to address this burgeoning problem.

The state and central governments should allocate sufficient budget need to provide financial thrust to the public education system in the form of Covid-19 rehabilitation package and also arrange special training classes for the children who have not been able to undertake online classes. In every ward, an e-learning centre with at least one computer, essential books and projector can help students to access classes in batches.

The corporate giants across sectors especially in education and technology sectors must step up their efforts in providing digital devices, imperative to virtual learning. CSR funds should be directed to achieve these outcomes, especially in remote areas. Industry bodies, research & policy organisations, and think tanks must invest in gathering data and conducting research around children’s access & outcome of digital learning so that policy recommendations can be made in an evidence-based manner.

Lastly we, the citizens of this nation, must contribute consciously to help the children in need, around us.

References

1. https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/news/story/school-closure-have-disrupted-learning-widened-gaps-affected-children-s-nutrition-and-health-india-task-force-on-covid-19-1792095-2021-04-17#:~:text=Widening%20inequalities%20in%20digital%20India&text=A%20little%20over%2015%25%20of,and%208.9%25%20to%20internet%20facilities.

About the Author

Niyati Verma is a public policy & communication strategist with over decade plus years of experience. As her personal passion to give back to the society, she works pro bono for underprivileged girl-child education & rural women empowerment at remote areas with MSM Foundation.