Digital inequalities in education in India
India, the 7th largest country with 1.3 billion population accounts more than 17% of the world population. India’s literacy rate was 74.4% in 2018 which is less than global literacy late 86% for aged 15 & above. The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis made students away from education for a long time. According to UNESCO, an expected 320 million students were affected in this pandemic. India is adopting innovative methods to make education accessible in a digital way to more accessible. But the most serious question arises ” How many students have digital access for education”?
The Internet is a key component of being digital. It is not disgusting to say that the era of telecommunication should be described as before Reliance Jio and after Reliance Jio. Jio has offered ultra-cheap data that attracted many subscribers.
Let us take a look at the Internet and smartphone/computer usage in India.
- In 2019 India recorded the highest data consumption globally i.e 9.8 GB/month.
- As of January 2020, India has 1177 million telephone subscribers(Basic+smart phone).
- As of May 2020, India has over 500 Million active Internet subscribes.
- By the end of 2019, there were more than 634 Million smartphone subscribers in India.
- Estimated, 11% of students possess any computers.
India’s E-learning sector is expected to reach 9.5 Million users by 2021. This number is far less compared to Indian school going students i.e 250 Million. Though the internet penetration is increasing rapidly, the e-learning seems to be like snails move in India. Several issues need to be addressed to make digital India for education.
Challenges in Online Education(E-learning)
India spends hardly 3% of GDP on education which ranks 62 worldwide. Further, for the year 2020-2021, the e-learning budget was reduced by 135 crores. Heavy spending is needed in this sector to make digital education accessible to 320 million children who were away from school during this pandemic. UNICEF reports one in three students was unable to access to the e-learning when their schools closed exposing lack of digital technologies. The technology gap can be filled by govt. by investing in digital technologies.
Only 56% of public schools have electricity connection and less than 12% of schools have any computers and internet available. The public schools which were completely or partly funded by the government is a key player for education in rural India. So the significant portion of children was left unconnected to online education. A report by Quacquarelli Symonds says that 40% of users face connectivity and 56.6% face signal issues when accessing through mobile data. This is another disadvantage to students who at least have internet access through a smartphone.
Whatever the mode of education, a large section of girl children did not get enrol in any schools. Most common reasons were myths and social stigma associated with girls. Poor sanitation facilities and lack of community awareness are major causes. Marriage at an early age is among one reason for female dropouts in India. Digital literacy among females is very poor. Only 29% of the total internet users are females.
Poverty is another reason. The affordability of smartphones/computers is a burden to many families. Adding to this, data prices and premium charge for online content adds heavily to their pocket. The poor in rural areas can afford neither of them. 45% of India’s population is poor. World Bank reports that hardly any poor own a computer and 7% non-poor owned a computer.
The New Education policy 2020 is yet to take complete structure. GOI has launched initiatives like mandarin, PM e vidya for multi-modal access to online/digital education during the pandemic period. Despite existing and new initiatives, online education is still inaccessible to many students. Private companies were only players in the e-learning market. Also, 100% Foreign Direct Investment(FDI) is approved by GOI in the education sector. The government can play a major role in this space by regulating private players so that the poor can afford online resources.
Right to Education Act, the right of every child aged 6-14 years to claim compulsory education will be compromised when the education moves online since most students studying in govt. schools and in rural areas can not afford/Inaccessible digital content.
As half the world’s population remain unconnected, a virtual ‘Generation Unlimited’ event calls for urgent action and investment to bridge the digital divide and scale-up digital learning and skilling opportunities.UNICEF
India always makes a crisis as an opportunity. India saw exponential growth in online payments when there is a shortage of currency during demonetization. Now the pandemic has thrown a challenge in the education sector to innovate new technologies so that no child is left behind.
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