Education has always been a privilege in India and a global pandemic has brought it to the fore. We belong to a country where education is a Fundamental Right is a distant dream for many. Inclusion of Right to Education under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution seemed like a progressive step towards improving the scenario of low literacy rate in the country which was plagued with high dropout rates in schools, the disparity in literate population and high rates of illiteracy.
Since independence, India has come a long way in improving the institutional structures of education in the country, but that wasn’t supposed to cover up for the many lags in the educational system. Be it during times of emergencies or the corona pandemic. The education scenario hasn’t changed much in response to coping with contingencies. The most astonishing fact about this era is that we have everything we want at our fingertips.
While the most logical answer as an alternative to schools and colleges being shut down for months is in the form of online classes (being held through applications like Google classrooms, Zoom or WhatsApp), the ground reality of such classes isn’t a bright one.
It’s the era of high technology and speed, but for a still-developing country like India, using the internet for imparting education isn’t the best possible solution. We are a country where a large part of the population doesn’t have access to a proper meal twice a day and making the internet an alternative for classrooms would mean deepening the class divide in schools too.
We know that the Right to Education Act secures the rights to free education for every child until the age of 14 years. As an added impetus, to lure children from downtrodden sections to school and to boost their nutrition, the provision of mid-day meals was introduced in government-run schools.
If we talk about the ground reality, the majority of families from backward classes and downtrodden sections send their children to school only because there is a promised one time meal for them there; education in such scenarios always takes a backseat for these people. During the pandemic, with schools being shut, there remains no incentive for these children to continue with their classes.
The emphasis on internet and technology for studies makes education part of an elite experience and reality, something that they can only dream about. While educational boards and institutions are busy emphasising the continuation of classes with no plans for postponing the session for the time, students from these marginalised sections are left to lag in the syllabus with no other alternative to aid them.
The many demerits of the change have affected every section of the country’s population in some way. The transition hasn’t been a cakewalk even for the people that have access to the internet, smartphones or computers. Certain families might have a single smartphone that is used by all the members of the house and leaving that phone to the school going child for classes would mean suspension of all other activities for a considerable period of the day.
Additionally, online video classes consume a lot of data which would mean new added costs for frequent data recharges. We are living in lockdown which means that the parents are home too. School from home and work from home coincide together, which means that if there aren’t enough devices in the house, one of them has to compromise; in most cases it’s the child. A limited number of devices also leads to added issues if there is more than one child in the family, leading to a messy squabble if the class timings of the siblings clash with one another.
The new normal of bringing the classroom home hasn’t been the best solution for a considerable chunk of the country’s population. Not just students, but even educators are at a peril since the inception of lockdown. It has to be noted that a considerable number of teachers and professors might be old school, have little or limited knowledge of using technology to conduct online classes.
Being devoid of proper knowledge of electronics and technological skills have posed a threat to not just the students who might feel left out from getting quality education but also to the jobs and positions of these teachers in their respective institutions.
Given the capitalist and profit-motivated world we live in, where surviving the competition and proving to possess utility is the motto of survival, these teachers might find themselves on edge for no fault of theirs. It’s imperative to note that schools might be closed, but the teachers are still at work.
Recently, a lot of online mobilisations have been observed where parents are voicing “no school, no fees”. It’s rather sad to see that people don’t take into consideration the effort teachers put into making sure that the classes go on despite the lack of resources and work pressure only because the children are not physically present within a four-wall entity of a classroom.
Since the beginning of the lockdown, there have been regular reports of students in colleges and universities complaining about the load of assignments and projects with fixed short notice deadlines. It’s essential in times like these to understand that no matter what, education must not take a backseat. But it’s also vital for the educators to understand that just because we are fighting a global pandemic doesn’t mean we are all holidaying with our families.
A lot of mental strain, depression, pressure and abuse are on the rise in a lot of families. There is no harm if we could all slow down for a while. The educational construct of institutions in India might seem rigidly academic for a lot of people. Still, both the teachers and students need to understand that these times aren’t easy for anyone.
In a nutshell, none of us were prepared for the current situation. Teachers and students alike are learning to cope with the new normal. The process is a faulty one for there was no handbook for education during a global pandemic. The trial and error methods for education in India in the current period is a matter of real concern. While we can’t postpone things by a year, we can’t guarantee that students will be graduating under the given circumstances.
India has always had two different worlds in it. Currently, a part of the country is worried they are being stripped of their fundamental right to education, while another part is joyous that the classroom has been brought to their homes.
It’s sad how even after 70 years of independence we still have disparities getting more profound with the passage of time and the pandemic just helped us see it.