The digital divide is the biggest scourge of online research
Technology has the potential to achieve universal quality education and improve learning outcomes. But in order to unlock its potential, the digital divide and the embedded gender divide must be addressed. In the information age, access to technology and the Internet is an urgent requirement and should no longer be seen as a luxury.
When schools and colleges go online, students with less digital access are further disadvantaged and those without digital access risk dropping out altogether.
According to official statistics, there are over 35 crores of students in the country. However, it is not known exactly how many of them have access to digital devices and the Internet. According to the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption in Education in India report, according to the 2017-18 National Sample Survey, less than 15% of rural Indian households have internet access, compared to 42% in urban households. Just 13% of respondents (over the age of five) in rural areas – where only 8.5% women – could use the Internet. Poorer households cannot afford a smartphone or computer, according to the survey.
The main challenge with distance learning is the disparity of access – from electricity and Internet connections to devices like computers or smartphones. Access to electricity is crucial for digital education, both for powering devices and for connecting to the Internet. While the Saubhagya government program to provide electricity to all households shows that nearly 99.9% of households in India have an electrical connection, the picture is less bright if the quality of the electricity and the number of hours during which it is available each day can be observed. thoroughly.
Mission Antyodaya, a national village survey conducted by the Ministry of Rural Development in 2017-18, showed that 16 percent of Indian households received one to eight hours of electricity per day, 33 percent received 9-12 hours and only 47 percent received more than 12 hours a day.
While a computer would be preferable for online courses, a smart phone could also be used for this purpose. While 24% of Indians own a smartphone, only 11% of households own some type of computer, which can include desktops, laptops, laptops, handhelds or tablets.
According to the 2017-18 National Education Survey report, only 24% of Indian households have an Internet connection; While 66% of India’s population lives in villages, only just over 15% of rural households have access to Internet services. For urban households, the proportion is 42%. Indeed, only 8% of all households with members aged 5 to 24 have both a computer and an Internet connection. With such a pitiful figure, the digital divide is evident by class, gender, region and place of residence.
Among the poorest 20% of households, only 2.7% have access to a computer and 8.9% to the Internet. In the case of the richest 20% of households, the proportions are 27.6% and 50.5%.
The difference is also apparent from state to state. For example, the proportion of households with access to a computer ranges from 4.6% in Bihar to 23.5% in Kerala and 35% in Delhi. In states like Delhi, Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand, more than 40% of households have Internet access. The proportion is less than 20% for Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.
The gender divide in Internet use is also striking. According to the report of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, in 2019, while 67% of men had access to the Internet, this figure was only 33% for women. The disparity is most pronounced in rural India, where the figures are 72% and 28% for men and women, respectively.
Just running online classrooms wouldn’t mean effective distance learning. One-on-one interactions between peers and teachers are very important for learning. On a digital platform, the way students learn and communicate with others largely depends on the readiness of teachers and students to embrace digital learning. In the case of distance education, the responsibility for learning rests more with the students, which requires discipline.
Learning requires an environment conducive to study. However, not all students have a quiet space to learn at home. While 37% of households in India have only one living room, it would be a luxury for many to attend conferences in a quiet environment. Having online classes on a regular basis also has a financial implication, as students have to bear the cost of Internet services. There is no communication from governments yet as to whether it will reimburse students or provide free or subsidized data packs. In the current situation, many students, especially those whose families have lost income as a result of job loss linked to confinement, will not be able to afford it.
Despite initiatives from central and state governments, there has not been enough spending to improve digital infrastructure for distance learning. In fact, in 2020-2021, the budget of the Department of Human Resources Development for online digital learning was reduced to Rs 469 crore from Rs 604 crore in 2019-2020.
(Dr Das writes on gender and social issues. She is a postgraduate English teacher by profession and can be mailed to [email protected])