Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, state governments across the country temporarily closed schools, colleges, and universities. Based on the current situation, it is uncertain when schools, colleges, and universities will be reopened. Undoubtedly, this is a critical time for the education sector, as several university entrance exams and competitive examinations are held during this period.
The digital divide has so far extended across India, further separating the wealthy from the underprivileged and tech-savvy from the tech-poor, with millions of children are struggling to meet the challenges of online classrooms.
The COVID-19 pandemic that has forced people into their homes and forced schools, colleges, and universities to take virtual classes blew up educational dreams with ample conditions: a computer or at least a smartphone, a proper Internet connection, and an uninterrupted power supply.
The field of education, which never reached the real level, is now potholed, vibrant, and bumpy-lumpy as students, and their teachers, in villages, cities, and towns struggle to cope with the demands of the times.
For example, children in a small town area on the floodplain of the Yamuna river along the Delhi-Noida border have never had it been so easy. To reach the school, they used to cross the river by boat, just minutes away from the bright lights of the country’s capital and its suburbs.
When India went into lockdown four months ago, their odds multiplied.
Joshna Kumar, 12, has a phone, but usually does not have electricity, so it is difficult to take online lectures each day. Many residents of her town depend on a cattle breeder named Charan Singh, who comes every day to charge their mobile phones. So, she too gives her phone to him.
I give my phone to him to charge every evening. He carries it charged next morning, she stated, while squatting on a charpoy in the garden of her home, hurriedly scrolling by her Whatsapp messages to jot down notes and finish homework. To save the battery of the mobile phone, Joshna keeps the brightness of her mobile low.
Her younger brother who studies at the same school does not attend class most of the time. When he attends classes online, Joshna has to miss her online classes as they both use one mobile phone. Therefore, Joshna finds pre-recorded videos of her online classes. Their father is a daily salaried worker and cannot get another phone.
Her story was echoed in Faridabad in Haryana. Eighth-grade student Suchi Singh stated that she has three siblings and only one smartphone between her and her three siblings. Therefore, it is very difficult for them to attend online classes at the same time. Thus, the four take turns participating in the class.
Suchi Singh is a topper. She is forced to miss her online classes which trouble her father, Rajesh Kumar, who is a newspaper vendor, but he stated he had no choice. A smartphone is a luxury which he can’t provide as he is struggling to support his family by other essential needs. Electronic learning or e-classes make life difficult, he stated, pessimistic about what destiny holds for him and his children.
Hundreds of kilometers away from Aarey Colony in Mumbai, Jyoti Randhe is a 10th class student in a municipal school, shares a smartphone with her mother, and then she takes it to work. Roshni Nere, her classmate, has to allocate her phone time to two sisters who are also taking online courses. Roshni’s mother stated that she is worried about her daughter’s future and requests the authorities to at least equip them with the necessary technology.
Some students also don’t have such an option
Like Sumit Wadakar, who attends the same school, and his father, Laxman Wadakar, worked as a security guard at the Mumbai Film City. He honestly said that his salary is not enough to buy a smartphone.
The figures show that electronic-education has increased the rift.
According to the 2017-18 data released by the Ministry of Statistics and Planning and Implementation, only 10.8% of Indians have computers, while 23.9% of Indians have Internet facilities.
According to the nationwide survey which conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2017-18 shows that 16.3% of households use electricity for 1 to 8 hours a day, 33.2% of households use 9-12 hours, and only 47.1% of households use electricity more than 12 hours a day.
In Srinagar, the situation is different, but the helplessness is the same.
The parents of Sheik Sulayman Mushtaq can afford his private school education, but the Kashmir Valley has only 2G connections. The slow speed means that 10th class pupils cannot transfer large files and attend live-streaming courses on their computers.
When students struggle with connectivity issues, insufficient screens, and no electricity, teachers also get into trouble.
Jeyaishwari RC Nadar teaches mathematics to 5th and 6th class children at a school in Mumbai. During class, she uses a transparent tray from the refrigerator as a mobile stand. She said about 10-15 students in the class were unable to take online sessions.
She said that even for those students who can participate, it is difficult because mathematics specifically requires one-on-one interaction with students to better understand.
Jaishwar Sulochana teaches Hindi and history at a school in the densely populated Dharavi slum in Mumbai which considered the largest slum in Asia, stated that many of her students live in one-room houses.
Background noise disrupts their concentration. Moreover, although most families have smartphones, some students cannot attend classes because their parents take the device from them whenever they go to work.
The hour requirement is to equip these students with mobile phones and tabs so that they can at least attend online classes. She said: Teaching students through online courses is not satisfactory.
Children with special needs face completely different challenges.
Despite connectivity and other issues, online courses may bring greater benefits to these students because their parents sit together and can explain to the children. This helps in educating children as well as parents, said by Mumbai’s Speech therapist Neeta Hemant Dhuri who takes classes of hearing impaired. She uses everyday pictures, objects, and toys to teach linguistic concepts such as verbs and prepositions by her laptop.
NGOs working with people with disabilities expressed concern about the problems students face in e-education.
Akhila Sivadas, executive director of the non-profit organization Advocacy and Research Center, said the government needs to provide an education that students with disabilities can access easily.
Innovation is usually the name of the game
Sandeep Saggar, a physical education or sports teacher in Delhi, uses a broom and everyday necessities items that he can take to teach hockey to the students from his garage. He said that parents have to pay fees on time, so students and teachers can take care of each other and continue as little learning as possible in these difficult COVID-19 periods.
No doubt, Technology plays an important role during pandemic situations and lockdown, such as study at home by online classes and work from home. In India, some private schools can use online teaching methods. But Low-income private and government public schools may not be able to adopt online teaching methods. As a result, the e-learning solution will be completely shut down due to inaccessibility.
Major Impact on Rural Areas
Most students in rural areas suffer from network problems and cannot buy iPads or smartphones. India is a country with many cultures, languages, customs, and ideas. Designing a platform suitable for multiple regional languages is a difficult task. However, many e-learning platforms now support widely used languages, which benefits most people. Many government websites provide content in English and Hindi, and also support local languages.
It is a bit confusing and boisterous to understand the socio-economic background in which students are discriminated, and how educational institutions should be amenable, adequately and appropriately to all students if they are to deliver education in a way that is impartial, reasonable and unbiased.
All institutional discussions have elitist biases with problematic assumptions. It seems that all learners can immediately have laptops or mobile phones, which are smart enough for e-learning programs. This is not authentic. Even if this happens, some students will return to homes that use electricity (important for charging devices) for lighting or where there is no power. We do know the challenges associated with connectivity.
Currently, the main challenge is to minimize the negative impact of this pandemic on learning and education and to use and build these data as the basis to return it to the track of accelerated learning development. As the education systems face and cope with this catastrophe, they must also think about how they can make more powerful improvements and recover stronger, with a changed sense of responsibility for all actors. Boldly exert influence!
Problems Facing Rural Education in India
- Teachers of rural schools in a small town and villages get a low income. Many teachers have not received their salaries in the lockdown so there is a possibility that teachers give less attention to children while teaching online.
- Most schools do not have appropriate infrastructure. So they don’t get most of Computer education and other facilities. In this pandemic period, most of the teachers who don’t have computer knowledge, are unable to teach students online.
- Unable to obtain supplementary education. Provide quality education to growing students means more teachers need to be trained so that they can maintain sufficient personalized student-teacher engagement.
- Lack of hardware facilities which hinders the reliability of e-learning.
- Lack of policies, strategies, plans, and monitoring and control to ensure cross-departmental and multi-stakeholder participation.
- Lack of knowledge of the use of e-learning materials and services provided.
- A problem in finding willing technicians to training illiterate rural areas of India.
- Primary schools did not teach computer courses or skills so it is difficult for students to attend online classes whose parents are illiterate.
- Insufficient skills of trainers or kiosks operators.
- Content development is irrelevant and participatory.
- Unable to provide services to rural areas.
The development of any society depends on its acquisition information, the same applies to rural India too. E-classes can work wonders in this direction and help the marginalized communities to get their rights. Indeed, rural areas often struggle to achieve the same educational standards as more densely populated regions. By e-learning, it is a powerful way for students in rural regions to enjoy the same advantages as their peers taking who live in urban centers.
We cannot ignore that in this time of the disaster, the capacity building of young people’s minds requires effective educational practices.
Therefore, Central and State governments need to take the necessary steps and measures to ensure that students in rural areas get quality education and the overall development of the e-learning system and progress of the country.