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Are Online Classes Creating a Digital Divide in Indian Education System?

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

Image courtesy: The Hindu

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t left any industry untouched including education. It has deeply disturbed the academic calendar in both schools and colleges. However, online classes have risen to the occasion and helped students from all over the world get on par with their education till movement remains restricted.

However, the recent trend of online classes has been a cause of concern from educational experts, even those at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). There is a certain level of danger when it comes to exposure to the internet for young children. Also, there is a section of students who don’t have a massive economical advantage. They don’t necessarily have access to the required technology for virtual classes.

What experts are warning

The UNICEF gave a statement on 15th April 2020. According to the global body, millions of children all over the world are vulnerable to different risks as they make a shift online amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As online education emerged during the lockdown, the class division among different sections of the society has increased. People who belong to the economically weaker sections (EWS) have been facing the most troubles of all.

Let’s understand this with the example of a student who is in the IXth standard. For the purpose of this explanation, let’s name him Kartik. Suppose, he is studying in a Delhi government school. In his family, only his father, who is a rickshaw puller has a smartphone. Ever since the government has imposed a full lockdown from March 25th, Kartik’s father has been selling vegetables to fend for his family.

Kartik lives in a one-room flat with his parents and his brother. During the day, he has to help his father sell vegetables. There is a class Whatsapp group from which he downloads the study material whenever he gets time between work.

Online classes creating a class divide in society

The Delhi government has stated that almost 10-15% of students who belong to the EWS are unable to access digital platforms for their education. But on the other hand, the schools say that about 90-92% of students have access to these digital tools. The remaining students from EWS have also managed to attend the online classes so far.

According to a private school student, studying in class X, it’s hard to study online without any tutoring aid from the teacher. In the beginning, he wasn’t able to attend the virtual classes due to the internet and login issues. Now, even though it’s difficult, he completely relies on the Whatsapp group for recorded lectures and study material.

UNESCO noted that at a global level, about 706 million students don’t have access to the internet. And 826 million students don’t have access to a computer at home.

Sanjay Kumar, a teacher at the Delhi University college stated that there are many challenges associated with teaching online. However, they have been following the set of instructions for virtual education that Delhi University has provided.

Students in big cities such as Delhi are easily able to attend these classes. However, those residing in small towns and villages are mostly not able to attend due to compromised internet speed.

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

Poor knowledge of digital communication tools

A teacher teaching at the Mahatma Gandhi Central University wondered how the government expects to teach students residing in rural areas via Zoom online classes. They are barely able to come on a video call for a few minutes. Connectivity issues rarely let them follow through a 40-minute class.

The teacher also pointed out a few other hindrances that don’t allow them to seamlessly go on with online classes. Some students don’t have the necessary devices such as a smartphone or a laptop. On the other hand, some don’t have the money for the internet connection to keep on par with the online classes.

Sangita Reddy, a 63-year old private school teacher in Hyderabad stated that the school tells them to record video lectures, take online classes using different apps, and make PPTs. However, they don’t provide clear guidelines for the same. She was also wondering how schools can expect an aged teacher without much technical know-how to carry on with this method.

Is there any solution to this problem?

Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs raised some security concerns when it came to the Zoom app for online lessons, private appointments, and government meetings. Since then, most schools have been on the lookout for alternatives to keep the online classes running without hindrances.

Due to the widespread of the COVID-19, it’s highly unlikely that the regular classes will resume any time soon. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) has been nudging schools to continue with online teaching so as not to disrupt the academic calendar because of the lockdown.

UNICEF has also been providing recommendations and tips for parents, students, and governments to face a new reality efficiently. The primary suggestion for governments state enhancing child protection services and ensure their presence during the pandemic. On the other hand, parents should cater to the fact that their children’s devices remain up to date as far as the software, anti-virus, and upgrades are concerned.

UNESCO has also suggested broadcasts via Television and Radio for reducing inequalities. Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO stated in a report that they have been consulting their Global Coalition partners to devise more such solutions.

Written by Anirban Guha with inputs from The Hindu, Indian Express, UNICEF and UNESCO

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