Bridging Digital Literacy Gap in Rural India

The current pandemic situation has posed unimaginable challenges in the arena of India’s education system. A majority of schools and colleges have opted for an online learning system. The traditional method of education has been amended overnight; the digital method of learning has become the new normal. This sudden tectonic shift on technology has come with its fair share of constraints; here’s how.

Digital Literacy gap exists in India, in spite of a rise in the number of wireless users over the past few years. In India, education is one of the key areas that has sizeable digital literacy gap between rural and urban areas. The current pandemic situation has raised an alarm towards addressing the issue.

There are multiple roadblocks to accessibility and adoption of online teaching and learning, some of which are discussed in this article.

In 2017, the Government of India launched a PM Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan scheme to disseminate digital literacy in rural India by covering 60 million households.

According to National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data, only 4.4% of rural households and 23.4% of urban households own computers. Moreover, while 42% of urban households have a computer with an internet connection, the same is available to only 14.9% of rural households. [1]

In remote areas like Jammu & Kashmir and other states, this online learning has been a challenge for students residing at that place. In some areas, the 4G connectivity is not accessible; instead, it supports the 2G network.

The main drawback of 2G internet connectivity has led to unclear audio and frequent video call drops and other problems.

As per the Indian Cellular and Electronics Association (ICEA) report, approximately 500 million smartphone users are in India currently, and it could reach 829 million by 2022. [2] However, the proportion of smartphone penetration was only 25% in rural areas.

Most rural internet users access the Internet through mobile phones. It means that many students in rural areas do not have the proper tools required to access online classes. 

In some cases, the students could not attend the online classes due to their inability to afford a smartphone and lack of 4G internet access, which mounts pressure on them.

A recent National Statistical Office (NSO) survey has stated that students those who complete their secondary school education are almost at par between rural and urban households. The survey points that 15 percent of students complete their education while in urban households, 19 percent do so [3].

The most critical drawback in online learning is that the dropout rate in rural and urban areas was significant, especially for the upper primary and secondary school levels.

Attention: Bridge the Massive Literacy Gap

The big divide in the education sector between urban and rural places should concern everybody. Fitch Ratings puts India's potential growth rate at 6.7% for the next five years, adding that lack of access to education will impede India's economic growth.

Whatever policies or development frame by the government follows a glacial pace to reach the country's remotest interiors or farthest corners. 

Digitization of education is proving to be the answer to bridge the divide caused. However, there are significant challenges to overcome that are enlisted here:

Digital infrastructural support

Many rural areas still do not have the required internet bandwidth. People in rural areas do not understand digital terminologies and devices. Besides, a lack of other infrastructure support, such as the flow of electricity is considered a significant problem.

Lack of skills among teachers

There is a lack of digital skills among teachers in rural areas. One of the notable factors is that the teachers in rural areas are unaware or less aware of digital platforms. This affects the penetration of digital education in rural areas. 

Lack of Facilities

This is one of the fragile factors for any tech-based education program. Creative content disseminated through technology will enhance skills and fortify the knowledge of students.

Digital content, once created can be learnt globally, and has a better shelf life until newer concepts or courses emerge. Video lectures and notes can be made available quickly to students through a tech-based platform.

Further, digitizing the education system will minimize infrastructure costs making it more affordable, and reduces the teaching efforts.

Some of the ways to overcome the barriers to digital education in rural India can be: 

  • Tech companies can develop a clear idea by providing quality content that could be accessed quickly, even on low bandwidth. The government can offer tax benefits to tech companies to promote this policy. 
  • The present pandemic situation is a great opportunity to make innovative wonders in the education platform.
  • Penetration of digital learning in rural areas, revisiting learning science from blended mode approach and this would be more beneficial for learners at large.  
  • Digital content delivery training for teachers can be organized periodically by the state governments concerned.
  • Periodic training programmes shall be implemented through bodies instituted under public-private partnership (PPP) model.
  • Taking the CSR digital education initiatives of corporate to rural schools will further improve the digital infrastructure in the zone. 
  • Government or corporate can aid rural schools with digital learning kits, solar power etc. 

Children must be nurtured with Digital Literacy to become holistic digital citizens, which is a crucial step towards empowering students to take full advantage of technology-enabled learning opportunities.



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