The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act of 2002 added the Right to Education in the Constitution of India. With this, free and compulsory education of all children aged six to fourteen years became a fundamental right that the State shall determine. However, in recent times, prolonged closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous disruption in the education systems. Thus, hindering the right of the most vulnerable students. There has been a rapid shift to e-learning processes. This transition has not been possible for all the educators and students, thereby causing huge regional and household disparities. While shutting off schools is the most logical solution to maintain social distancing, this has also lead to a wide rift in educational inequality.
Innovative Approach to Education
The COVID-19 crises have stimulated innovation within the education sector in India. New innovative approaches have been witnessed in support of education and training. As a quick response to governments shutting the school, distance-learning or e-learning solutions have been developed. E-learning shall rely on the availability and accessibility of technology. On one hand, these changes highlight a promising future of learning. On the other hand, these changes have adversely affected the youth and children who lack resources.
The Digital Education Divide
In India, this innovative interruption has had a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable pupils. According to the Ministry of Rural Development, only 53 percent of households receive less than twelve hours of electricity. These households have limited conditions for ensuring the continuity of learning at home. Moreover, the presence of pupils at home also complicates the economic conditions of the family as families have to compensate for the loss of school meals. This has raised the concern that if these pupils are not supported properly, they shall never return to school. At the same time, families with better means of living can bridge the transition to e-learning processes. Thus, exacerbating the pre-existing disparities.
Biases: an exacerbation of disparities
According to an estimate by UNESCO, 40 percent of the poorest countries of the world fail to support the learners during the COVID-19 crises. It has been witnessed that both gender inequalities and gender disparities tend to get neglected in times of disease outbreaks. Domestic chores and the work of farms can prevent children, especially girls, from getting sufficient learning time. These children also receive less help in their homework. It is also true that children with disabilities are often not included in the strategies of e-learning. These children were already marginalized before the pandemic. Besides the children who have the least access to hardware and connectivity, pupils with poor digital skills are also among the vulnerable learners. Many learners, mostly in the minority and the youngest groups, do not understand the language of instruction. All these disparities shall further widen the distribution of learning achievements on various populations.
The Policy Times Suggestions on Digital Education Divide
- In the times when e-learning is the “new normal”, the recent education policy must address the feasibility of digitalization to equity in education.
- There is an urgent need to build a resilient education system that can respond to the immediate challenges of safely reopening of schools. State governments can focus on reinforcing capacities for risk management at all levels of the education system.
- State governments and education boards can help to enhance consultation and communication mechanisms between students and educators.
- The education policy must focus on addressing the rising dropouts, particularly from the marginalized groups. This can be done by expanding the definition of the right to education to include connectivity.