When World Wide Web Is Unable To Reach Villages
From traditional classrooms to Google classrooms, from blackboards to Jamboard, and from supplements to Google Forms, the staggering impact of Covid-19 has caused the traditional Indian education system to adapt to and overcome unthinkable circumstances, as school closures compelled education systems to devise and execute different modes of online and remote learning.
Not just in India, across the world around 63 million teachers were affected in 165 countries, as stated by a UNESCO report. A total of 1.3 billion learners around the world were not able to attend schools or universities, and approximately 320 million learners were affected in India alone.
Considering everything, children from rural India have always been at a disadvantage as compared to their urban counterparts – which includes accessibility to good schools, electricity, learning resources, and an overall nurturing learning environment.
The crater-like rural-urban divide can barely be fathomed. The ASER 2020 survey highlights that these efforts have yielded disappointing results. During the reference week, approximately -
20 percent of rural children had no textbooks at home
28 percent of students had received no educational assistance from family
29 percent of children had not engaged in any educational activity
66 percent of children had not received any instruction from their school
only 11 percent had attended live online classes
32 percent of children with smartphone access had not received any materials.
In addition, access to devices and the internet does not guarantee the ability or use for educational purposes. As the key indicators of household social consumption on education in India show, only 20 percent of people in the 5–35 age group had basic digital literacy, while only 8.5 percent of women knew how to use the internet.
Even before the pandemic, rural areas already faced internet, connectivity, and electricity issues. So, when it came to online education and e-learning, it can be said that the rural population was considerably ill-equipped with amenities like electronic devices, an uninterrupted power supply, and fast internet. Infrastructural improvements in rural areas have undoubtedly occurred, with their schools trying to develop with the current times, but rural India still grapples with the challenge of making education digital.
Before discussing the problems faced by many who are receiving online education at rural levels since the new dawn of a pandemic-ridden world, we have to take into consideration that some, if not most resources and facilities in these government schools in the nooks and crannies of the country were already lacking in terms of a shortage of teachers, barely any learning resources and a socio-cultural environment that often gives more importance to labour-work than education. There are also the economically destitute families of the marginalized, communities of labour workers and a vast amount of the underprivileged who have their children enrolled in schools just to avail benefits like the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.
When it comes to digital literacy, infrastructural support, and availability of technological devices, many students and institutes alike face considerable setbacks, as the technological divide becomes an even larger hurdle for students and teachers situated in villages.
Students and teachers alike from rural areas and communities have trouble with fast internet, a constant power supply, and the accessibility to digital devices. Data packs, their costs, and network coverage in remote areas are also other deterrents for teachers and students alike. Moreover, sometimes there is also scarcity in the availability of devices in each family. While smartphones are available, they are not always available to be used for class for six to seven hours straight. Laptops and computer screens are also a rarity, especially fully functioning and adept ones. And there is an even bigger dilemma for families with fewer devices and more children. These cause restrictions in learning.
The student-to-teacher ratio is also poor in villages, posing another challenge in making learning entirely digital. A larger number of well-trained and skilled teachers is required. While the contemporary online classroom solutions are designed to facilitate engagement and intuitiveness among students towards learning, a teacher's guidance and attention remain indispensable for learners.
Other issues that restrict learning are social ones – By August 2020, we saw an 88 percent increase in child marriages across the country in comparison to August 2019, as per a reply by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development to a RTI sought by Rajya Sabha MP Amar Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal. In some other families, with the lack of internet and devices, boys were encouraged to continue education while girls were made to drop out by parents.
With issues such as these plaguing villages and the Indian education system at a rural level, and a halt on the regular functioning classrooms, the path e-learning has paved for these children remains a frangible one, albeit promising.
With government support and innovations, a new dawn that is technologically equipped, resource-full, and brimming with teachers and opportunities awaits these children somewhere across the horizon of time. How much time, if not at this time of dire need? That is a question even the government and state-bodies cannot answer.
Ninie Verma is pursuing Bachelors in Communication from Fergusson College, Pune. She is passionate about education, especially accessible education for girls. She works as a Content Writer Intern at Kanyaka Foundation.