The COVID-19 phase has filled the country with all kinds of issues and challenges. One of the major challenges has been Pandemic and Digital Divide. Even though a lot many initiatives have been taken to bridge the gap between the impart of education and students sitting at home, still many challenges are being faced on income and gender level. Shifting to the online form of learning has been easier for private schools than it has been for government schools, due to which the students living in remote areas fail to get access to online education.
For more than 90 days now, the schools have been closed in India, and there is no fixed date as to when they will reopen. During this pandemic, when the entire world is going digital and is solely focused and dependent on the e-education system, a recent report issued by UNICEF tells us that the rural kids are facing many challenges with remote learning due to lack of internet access. Only 24% of Indian households have access to the internet and the digital world. 'How in the world would the rest 76% of the population learn online or complete their education?' is the question everybody has in their minds.
The students all over India have been affected by the pandemic, but most affected are the ones who are not even able to access e-education in India. A lot of concerns are taking rounds in the media about the lack of internet facilities in remote areas.
The report doesn't only state the income-wise gap, but also throws light on the gender-wise gap prevailing in our country. The girls from low-income families do not have access to smartphones, let alone having access to e-education. While few girls who tend to have smartphones, face the ghost of poor internet connectivity, the others face the problem of courses not being taught in their local language.
The global issue is worse. As per the UNICEF report, after the schools were shut down due to pandemic, almost one-third of the world's students were not able to access remote learning, that accounts for 46.3% children on a global scale.
Well, pandemic and digital divide is not the only reason why students in remote areas are suffering. Kids in remote areas; especially females; are made to do household chores instead of studying from home. They are forced to work by their parents, leading them to not being able to give time to e-learning. On top of all these factors, there is a poor environment surrounding the kids at their houses, which can not let them study an online curriculum. Lack of continuous electricity supply is one of the major issues.
The approach to online education in India needs to change, else the private colleges will keep coming up with creative solutions for e-education in India, but the students of Government schools will be left far behind. Many initiatives are to be taken by UNICEF. They are coming out with multiple strategies in order to bridge the gap between rural students and digital education. One of the UNICEF India Representatives- Yasmin Ali Haque, has called for many initiatives to support these students in these times.
Chaittishgarh's Padhai Tu Har Dwar portal is also an example of providing digital education to children of low-income families. In this, the students and teachers are made to register with some basic details. After registering, the teachers can teach online and the students can access curriculum and learnings via their phones. The portal has its own flaws and challenges, but they are continuously working on it and upgrading it.
There are two probable ways to bridge the gap and solve the issues concerning Pandemic and Digital Divide. One is the reopening of schools as soon as possible with proper safety measures kept in mind. The second way is that volunteers from the education system tend to go door to door in rural areas, stay at their homes for a week, and make them practice the process of online curriculum learning in front of their eyes. Only by teaching them face to face once, can they continue to do it even without aid in the future. At least until the schools reopen in our country.
The digital divide has to diminish during this pandemic and it can only be done with the strongest of efforts. The high-income group can also help this cause on a global scale. A lot of damage fixing in the digital education system needs to be done if we want to save a generation of childhood from getting wasted.