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The role of civil society in education during and after COVID-19

The coronavirus is igniting a wave of new civic action. Supporters of civil society from around the world should scale up their efforts to reinforce these local responses

The COVID-19 outbreak wreaked havoc on India’s education system, exposing the country’s digital gap. Experts think that with the support of civil society organisations, there is still a chance to get things back on track. Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder and Executive Trustee of the Smile Foundation, spoke to Indiatimes about how certain legislative measures can assist India accomplish its primary education goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on people all across the world. With the longest school closures and a coming recession, this is the greatest blow to education systems in decades. It will halt progress toward global development goals, especially those relating to education. Fiscal austerity, increased poverty, and fewer resources available for expenditures in public services from both domestic expenditure and development aid will almost certainly result from economic crises inside countries and worldwide. All of this will result in a human development crisis that will last long after disease transmission has stopped.

The pandemic has created significant holes in India’s educational system. Students in remote communities have been the hardest hit. Only 18.3 percent of children in rural areas enrolled in government schools had access to video recordings, according to the ASER 2020 study, and only 8.1 percent had attended live online lectures. According to our survey, titled “Scenario amidst COVID-19-On the Ground Situation and Possible Solutions,” around 56 percent of the 42,831 pupils polled did not have access to smartphones. Students attempting to acquire quality education at the grassroots have faced significant challenges due to a lack of resources such as digital devices and internet connectivity, as well as financial constraints.

The pandemic has hastened the activity of civil society organisations, with many going above and beyond to help and make good influence. We created the ‘Shiksha Na Ruke’ initiative at Smile Foundation to give continuing education during the pandemic. We worked in 201 mission education centres throughout 22 states as part of our interventions. There are also additional CSOs striving to address educational challenges. To get education back on track, I believe it will take a concerted effort by the government and civil society organisations, as well as active participation from educational institutions.

With the digitization of learning methods across all levels of school, we could easily argue that the education sector has seen a shift in the last year. Students learned to study on their screens as teachers adapted to teaching online and sharing video classes. In India, however, not every student had access to a smartphone or computer. To close the digital divide, we need to improve national infrastructure to enable affordable and fast internet access. The social divide complicates the digital divide; this is where grassroot mobilizers and non-governmental organisations (NGO) can help the impoverished gain access.

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