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How digital divide reinforces social inequalities in Indian education

Updated: Nov 6, 2021

While the 8-year-olds of the top 10% are learning information technology and problem-solving skills, children in public schools struggle to perform basic arithmetic operations.

COVID-19 has affected all walks of life, but the impact on education seems irreversible. Not only did one academic year pass by with little or no learning, but many children also forgot what they learned in the previous classes. With the introduction of mobile phone-based learning, the digital divide in India became more apparent and it only led to the ever-increasing social inequalities in the country.

Impact of COVID-19

Out of the 68 students, who participated in SABIA’s survey on the impact of COVID-19 on education, 64% of the respondents reported sharing a family device, 18% received a device from their school, and 18% did not have any medium to access online education. Lack of equipment is not the only concern students of the underprivileged section face; high data costs, technology literacy, poor internet connectivity, and non-academic distractions are some of the major issues that add to the woes of Indian students today.

Effects of online learning

School is a collaborative space, where the transmission of information happens from teacher to student, one student to another, and student to teacher. This space cannot be created at home, especially when the whole family is staying in one room. Due to online schooling, learning happens in seclusion which impacts students' hard and soft skills.

As per the Azim Premji Foundation’s Loss of Learning during the Pandemic report, which covered 16,076 students across classes 2-6, 97% of the respondents have lost at least one language ability learned from the previous classes. National Education Policy 2020 states that a child’s capacity to learn languages is at its best when s/he is between 3 to 8 years old. 82% of the students have forgotten at least one mathematical ability from the previous year. Soft skills like learning cooperation and setting boundaries have also taken a back seat because of online schooling.

Before the pandemic

Even before the pandemic, the Indian education system supported rote learning because of which many students, who have received an education, were unemployable. The Annual School of Education Report (ASER) 2018 highlighted that even after almost 8-years of schooling, only 43% of 14-16 years old could perform simple division, more than 40% couldn’t tell time, and 46% did not know the capital of India.

Hopes for the future

The current situation seems dismal but there are hopes to recover what we have lost. India was close to achieving ‘schooling for all’ and now the aim is to provide ‘learning for all.’ Indian society has taken many quantum leaps to make education accessible for its children. For instance, there has been significant growth in smartphone purchases in the year 2020. Online learning will continue to be a part of the education system but a blend of offline and online could be considered as the ideal state.

What is SABIA doing to bridge the gap

SABIA is all set to launch its fundraising campaign to continue supporting students. The learning loss, drop rate in schools, and mental health issues have increased due to COVID and we are helping students to overcome these challenges. The campaign will be active from November 14 to December 14, 2021. We aim to establish new learning centres and libraries. We also plan to introduce new modules and projects.

Kritika Tyagi

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