In conversation with Dr. Jamshed Bharucha, Vice Chancellor, Founding, Sai University with Chetan Sharma, Founder, Edumate.tv on pandemic and education
The Covid-19 pandemic, according to UNICEF, has wreaked havoc on school systems around the world, affecting about 90% of the world’s student population. The pandemic forced the closure of approximately 1.5 million schools in India, affecting 286 million children from pre-primary through secondary education. This is on top of the 6 million girls and boys who had already dropped out before Covid-19. This disturbance in education has far-reaching economic consequences. The impact of school closures in monetary terms has been evaluated in a World Bank report titled ‘Beaten or Broken: Informality and Covid-19 in South Asia.’ India is predicted to lose $440 billion (Rs 32.3 lakh crore) in potential future profits.
To combat the disruption and damage, educational institutions around the country have embraced digital education as a way to fill the hole left by classroom instruction. With this, India’s formerly marginalised digital education took centre stage and is now progressively being absorbed into the mainstream. The Union government’s National Education Policy, announced in July, emphasised the necessity of combining online and traditional education. While the Covid-19 pandemic has made online schooling a hot topic, a recent report from the global education network Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) claims that India’s internet infrastructure is still not up to the task. According to a 2019 government survey, only 24% of homes have internet connectivity. In rural India, the percentage of homes with access is even lower, with only 4% of families having access.
According to a 2018 NITI Aayog report, 55,000 villages in India are without mobile network connectivity. According to a survey conducted by the ministry of rural development in 2017-18, more than 36% of Indian schools were without electricity. Many youngsters from impoverished backgrounds are becoming alienated as a result of the emphasis on technology-driven education, which is preventing them from continuing their studies. Other stakeholders are also having difficulties. Teachers aren’t always prepared to make the move to online instruction.
As e-learning becomes the “new normal,” government officials are working to make digitisation of education more accessible and cheap to all. The Union government is placing a lot of faith in the Bharatnet initiative, which promises to increase connectivity by providing broadband to 250,000 gramme panchayats across the country via optic fibre. Rural schools should be able to give online education to pupils who do not have access to the internet at home thanks to broadband connections in gramme panchayats.
Aside from the digital infrastructure, teachers must be trained on how to use the system to provide pupils with authentic and seamless education. Because learning in colleges differs from that in schools, the successful delivery of education is also under issue. At every level, digital education cannot be used in the same way. The Centre and state governments must increase education expenditures to at least 6% of GDP if the Indian education system is to transition to online learning without creating a digital divide. The sector currently receives less than 3% of central and state funding. Ironically, the education ministry’s allocation for digital e-learning was cut from Rs 604 crore the previous year to Rs 469 crore in 2020-21, the year Covid struck.