Sitting at the comfort of our homes and attending classes online for about a year now, we can say the journey hasn’t been easy, despite all the privileges that we have. It doesn’t take a genius to realise how education, that was once a necessity, has now become a matter of privilege, for only those equipped with resources like high-speed internet connectivity and technologies can enjoy. For a country whose 60% population lives in rural areas and towns, and for an economy crashing father than seen in a decade implying poor economic condition of the people, online education came bearing threats of non-accessibility to all. And while we expected our government to actually take some steps to help eradicate this growing digital divide and education gap, which all of us saw coming, we got some hollow claims from the government completely contradicting the reality.
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar in Lok Sabha claimed that no child was deprived of online education in India, despite the pandemic. He expressed how it was all possible because of several steps taken by the government, and how India has surpassed many countries in provision and accessibility of online education to its children. He further went to explain the online presence of practically every education form, starting right from the age 5 to university education. He said, “Practically everything became online. Under-privileged children were provided access to mohalla schools, with there being more than 34 education channels now, 22 for higher and 12 for school education.” He also added, “The education reached everywhere, practically there is no gap now. People who did not even have access to television were provided access to Mohalla schools. “
Wow, I’m stunned at how easily the union government makes claims that are so contradictory to real life without even the slightest thought of accountability. And even though we’re witnessing the reality of how actually online education has played for poor children in the country, let’s throw in some statistics to ensure at least somebody has credibility in their claims.
In a recent survey conducted by the non-profit organisation Oxfam India, a member of the 20-member Oxfam International that aims at ending discrimination and creating a free and just society, it was revealed that more than 80% of children studying in government schools did not receive education during the lockdown period, as reported by their parents. The survey was conducted with a five-state sample and included people from different sects of society to ensure credibility. So, if you were thinking to come at it with claims of another propaganda, it’s time you do some searching.
It is devastating to see the number as large as 80% because it may be not only is a halt for one year for those students but probably a lag for their coming years too. The survey also revealed that 8 out of 10 students did not receive their textbooks for the academic year 2020-21, simply pointing at the fact that these children haven’t learnt anything new in the past year or so. The study found that the lack of digital devices and unavailability of basic resources like textbooks in government education centres further aggravated the problem of accessing education. It is disturbing to note the hollow nature of the claim after witnessing the number of children with a lack of resources to be as large as 80%. And if you think about it, the problem is not only the fact that the authorities are lying about it, it is also that if the government doesn’t acknowledge the problem, it won’t work to alleviate the problem and the lives that are at stake would continue to suffer for as long as the government simply chooses ignorance.
As for private schools, the survey revealed that only 41% of parents reported their children receiving education during the lockdown period, of which 82% faced challenges in accessing digital education, referring to signal and internet connectivity issues as the biggest barrier. Even though the number shows a sharp contrast between public and private education, it cannot be claimed that the difference is large enough to counter the problem of a lack of resources in the lower-income groups. The government has failed to take any significant steps to counter the digital divide in the country and ensuring that the resources are accessible to all and despite taking accountability for it, they chose not to provide any fixed share of funds to the online education sector in the Budget 2021. Again, no issue is resolved without it being acknowledged and as long as the government isn’t held accountable for their baseless claims, the issues will continue to persist.
Oh, and did the Union Minister said there was no digital divide? Well, what do you call the fact that only 15% of India’s rural households have access to the internet? Give it a moment and interpret how 85% of rural children do not even have the basic means to access online education, let alone high-speed network and smartphones. And what big deal is it for the government to ignore the growing gender literacy gap, given only 29% of India’s internet users are women.
The UNICEF report released in September 2020 shed light on the fact that 286 million children from pre-primary to secondary classes were severely affected by the pandemic school closures, adding to the six million children already out of the school prior to the pandemic. Emphasise on the words ‘Pre-primary and Secondary’ and then look back at the number ‘286 million children’ again. The basic formation years that form the future of the children are going into vain so terribly and how. These people are the future of the country, the world and it is devastating to see it in shackles. Hold your government accountable and question their claims because they are not merely statements, they are lives at stake and if the pattern continues, we would be left with nothing but just some hollow statements.