About 2 years ago, my friend and I had a small debate after reading the results of a survey that said that students in rural India don’t know how to use a computer or have access to the internet. My friend working in the education sector insisted on proving that computers are available in rural schools, but he seemed to have lost the point completely. It’s not about schools having computers, it’s about how many schools are teaching their students to use the computer.
This was in 2018, which was 3 years after the Digital India Program was launched. Remember Digital India? That time when everyone went gaga over changing their profile pictures on Facebook to support this. You know even after all that, the whole Digital India program seems to have failed. The suicide of a 14-year-old student in Kerala is a stark reminder of how the dream of Digital India is far from coming true.
When the entire country went under lockdown and schools shifted to an online education system, millions of students were left out without access to this online education system and 14-year-old Devika Balakrishnan was one of them. While the dream was to reduce the technological divide between people by connecting them digitally, only 36% of Indians have internet access and the rising cost of mobile data is making it difficult for students to access online classes.
It’s not just an internet connection, but electricity and being able to afford devices like computers and smartphones is still a distant dream for many. While a computer or a laptop is ideally preferred for online classes, smartphones can also serve the purpose but are not ideal for carrying out lengthy assignments or projects that go hand-in-hand with these online classes.
According to the 2017-18 National Sample Survey Report on Education, internet facility is available to only 24% of Indian households. About 66% of India’s population lives in rural areas and these rural areas, only 15% of households have internet facilities as compared to 42% of households in urban India.
There is, of course, a great divide when it comes to accessibility to the internet and with the COVID-19 outbreak, this has also increased the economic divide. While in the years to come online education is the way forward, I feel that if we don’t give a push to infrastructural development India will still be far from truly becoming Digital India and no, changing your profile pictures on social media will not help.