Post Mortem

Digitally Inequal

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 4/18/2021 12:45:06 PM IST

 Digital technology and the Internet has been a major contributor to the continuation of various activities in lockdown. Now, restrictions are being lifted in many places in our country and in the world and efforts are being made to normalize everyday life, but it may take time for the education institutions to open up and run smoothly. In our country, online medium is being used for the education of children in schools during lockdown. Teachers and school administrators have been advice to continue communication with students through virtual lectures or portals like Massive Open Online Courses. However, in the absence of physical classrooms and proper digital infrastructure, both teachers and students are facing unprecedented challenges. 

Although online classes have been introduced in the education sector, we should not forget that a large section of our country does not have the necessary things like computers, television, smart phones and laptops and also internet facilities. Due to lack of such facilities, a large number of rural students have committed suicide in the recent scenario after they failed to attend online classes and examinations. 

While a computer would be preferable for online classes, a smartphone could also serve the purpose. However, the phone might be convenient for apps, but not for carrying out lengthy assignments or research. While 24% Indians own a smartphone, only 11% of households possess any type of computer, which could include desktop computers, laptops, notebooks, netbooks or tablets. Even the penetration of digital technologies in India has been haphazard and exclusionary. 

A report of the National Sample Survey on Education (2017-18) states that only 24 percent of the households in the country have internet access. While 66% of India’s population lives in villages, only a little over 15% of rural households have access to internet services. For urban households, the proportion is 42%.. Only 8% of the households that have people between 5 and 24 years of age have computer and internet facilities. . It is also useful to note that as per the National Sample Survey definition, a household with a device or internet facility does not necessarily imply that the connection and devices owned by the household. Among the poorest 20%households, only 2.7% have access to a computer and 8.9% to internet facilities. In case of the top 20% of the households, these figures are 27.6%and 50.5% respectively. This means that even in the middle income families, not everyone has such facility that their children can study properly through online mode. Further, mobile availability in the country have been estimated at 78%, but there is a huge difference between urban and rural areas.

According to one survey, 59% of our youth have no knowledge of computers and about 64% of the youth have never used the internet. There is a huge difference in the facilities of private and government schools in the country. Private schools charge hefty fees and have no shortages of resources and so students in these schools will get the facility of virtual classes easily. But government schools who are still struggling to get the basic facilities, how will they get the facility of online classes.

The digital divide is evident across class, gender, region or place of residence. Merely moving classrooms online would not mean effective remote learning. One to one interaction among peers and teachers are very important for learning. On a digital platform, how students learn and communicate with others is largely dependent on the readiness of both teachers and students to accept digital learning. In the case of distance education, the onus of learning is more on students, which requires discipline. There are challenges for teachers too. Not only are many of them digitally inept, a large number of teachers have never used an online environment to teach. Teaching a course online ideally requires preparation, such as designing a lesson plan and preparing teaching materials such as audio and video contents. This has posed new challenges for many teachers.

Access to electricity is also crucial for digital education, both for powering devices as well as for connecting to the internet. While the government’s Saubhagya scheme to provide electricity to households shows that almost 99.9% of homes in India have a power connection, the number of hours for which it is available every day is far less than the requirement.

No doubt, corona has now brought a new challenge to the education system of the country, which has been grossly ignored over the last 70 years, but at the same time we should not forget that everyone has equal rights over education and it should be made universal. The central and state governments should come up with a well-planned and a well-defined policy of providing proper and adequate digital education to the students of the country. Otherwise, the digital gap, which is already wide, will get wider even as we struggle to adjust to a new life with coronavirus.

Kaustov Kashyap

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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