Digital Divide Will Have Lasting Impact On Education Even After The End Of Pandemic

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In September 2020, a 15-year-old girl class IX student in Karad in Satara district, Maharashtra allegedly committed suicide at her home as she didn’t have a Smartphone to attend her school’s online classes.

In August last, a Class X girl student from Saagade village under Chamarajanagar rural police limits in Chamarajanagar district  Mysuru, Karnataka committed suicide as her parents were not able to buy her a smart phone to attend online classes.

In July, a class eight student from remote village in Tripura committed suicide as her father, a daily labourer, failed to purchase an android mobile phone for her online classes.

In early June, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide in Kerala’s Malappuram district as she did not have a smart phone to study.

There are many such cases in which the tendency of suicide among girls increased during the lockdown period as they were struggling to continue their education. Remote learning or e-learning in the Corona-era has posed some real challenges for girls’ education.

With 9m cases, India ranks second in Covid-19 cases globally. Government has temporarily closed school-colleges to prevent the spread of the pandemic. On the other hand, to compensate the school closures, a campaign ‘Bharat Padhe Online’ was vigorously promoted. This campaign facilitates the continuity of learning for all through online education and children are provided education via various digital platforms. However, it seems that instead of broadening the opportunity of education for all, it had the reverse effect. The gap between education of boys and girls has actually been widened due to virtual studies. This difference is being called the digital divide.

So, it’s important to understand what the ‘digital divide’ is and why it is significant. The term is used to portray the split between those able to access and get benefit from the internet and those who are deprived of such benefits. This term first came into use in the 1990s. It was noticed that dearth of information was being created due to lack of accessibility and availability of the internet.

There were global attempts being made to bridge this digital divide and expand the access of infrastructure, application and services related to the internet to common masses. While the effort was being made to eliminate the difference that arose due to the internet, another disparity has procreated, that is the ‘gender digital divide’. This divergence is equally dangerous because it directly reduces the rights of half the population. Gender digital divide explains that the Internet is not as easily accessible to girls as it is available to boys.

Household Social Consumption on Education in India worked on the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) 2017-18 report found that only 15% of the population in the rural areas have internet access. At the same time, this access is reduced to 8.5% for women who have a Smartphone, or can access the broadband/internet if needed.

It was also found that girls from economically weaker backgrounds are bound to spend more time on household chores due to the closure of the school, and had no separate time left for studies. Apart from this, access to the internet is also a challenge for girls as their education is not seen as a priority, and if there are both boys and girls at home, then boys’ has higher chances for getting the internet to continue their education.

Latest data from UNICEF shows that across the globe, one out of every seven school going girl, is now lagging behind in e-learning. The situation is worse in Asian countries and especially in India. There are many reasons for this. For example, one reason is lack of resources. In the year 2017-18, the Ministry of Rural Development found that only 47% of the households have electricity for 12 hours or more. Also 36% of the schools are running without electricity. This is obviously making e-learning difficult for all but girls as a subset will be facing more challenges.

Discussing the issues around e-learning, Ambareesh Rai, National Convenor of the Right to Education Forum (RTE Forum), says that digital learning is actually increasing the digital divide. Children, who are in villages, on the mountains or in remote areas that lack electricity, internet, will not be able to continue their studies. If there is only one smartphone at home, the girls are given little access to it as parents fear for their safety.

It’s not only girls, but many deprived sections of society will be severely affected by digital divide as e-learning is actually widening the gap in social strata. Online education is not only widening the gap between rich and poor, but it also has increased the distinction between urban-rural and male-female. In such a situation, the weaker section will become weaker and all the efforts that were being made for development for years will go in vein. Digital learning might be a successful strategy to prevent the spread of corona; this surely is affecting the education of poor and girls adversely and hence is a direct attack on the right to education.

 

– -By Preetam Brahma Choudhur

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