The impact of Covid-19 pandemic has been observed in every sector around the world. The education system of India, as well as all the other sectors, have been affected by this. Governments all around the world were forced to impose lockdowns to curb the spread of the infection.
Thus, all schools, whether public or private, were closed down starting from March. But thanks to technological advancements, we have been able to adapt to this new normal by attending classes, workshops, training, and working. With no clear sign of schools reopening soon, they had to resort to virtual means to ensure that children’s education is not affected. Teachers are sending homework and reading material via WhatsApp or giving virtual classes on Zoom for these children.
Although this initiative needs to be appreciated, we still need to answer the bigger question: Has virtual education penetrated all sections of our society? We need to find an answer to this question by finding out the percentage of families who don’t own a smartphone and even if they do, can they afford the internet data plans?
I am working as a Gandhi Fellow with Kaivalya Education Foundation, and I’m associated with five schools in Sohna block of Gurugram district, contributing to capacity building of teachers and school leadership, during the pandemic. We started intervening with children through WhatsApp and Zoom app.
We found that the total number of children in classes 3 to 5 in the five schools is around 350, out of which parents of 293 children use WhatsApp. Among them, about 20-25% have a normal phone like (Jio) in which only WhatsApp functions. The question that needs to be raised and addressed is whether the parents who have a normal Jio phone can provide education to their children?
We tried to get views of both the parents and the teachers. On asking the headteacher of a school, Gaurav Ji, he said that most of our children’s parents here have Jio phones. When they send them any educational material in PDF, images, videos, or word, these formats are usually not supported in the Jio phones. Thus, the children cannot view it and complete the assignments in due time; the same problem arises while sending the assignments.
In such a situation, when most of the parents are unable to send the assignments in different formats, they get fed-up and pay less attention to their children’s education. When the teachers want to connect with children through Zoom, those children cannot connect with the class. In such a situation, we also face many challenges about how we can continue cooperating in the education of those children. He says that these children will face many difficulties in adapting to the next class whenever the schools reopen.
In the same way, this can be a trend across India or developing countries; they also have children from certain sections who have normal phones or fewer technology resources; their education in this pandemic has also been affected. If we focus on these people, then millions of children have lost a lot in their education during the pandemic. If we go ahead with ed-tech in the future or study through technologies, we will keep ignoring these millions of unprivileged children.
We all know that this is the crucial learning stage of children, if they are left behind due to some digital resources or technologies, then it is a blot on our great nation. In the future, many problems will arise like increasing drop-out rates, not having strong foundation skills, lack of understanding in their subjects, and many more.
In such a situation, how can the government, local NGOs, and ed-tech institutions help them?
The imperative is on the government, ed-tech institutions, and NGOs to create such a mechanism through which we will be able to provide equal facilities to these underprivileged children to not face such problems in the future.
For this, ed-tech institutes or mobile industry, to take care of children’s problems, they should make such devices for education to support apps, files, and other content related to their education. They should provide such devices to these children so that people of the low-income community can also give this device to their children, which will prove to be very helpful in their education in the future. In this way, ed-tech industries can prepare a bridge between these children and education in the future by preparing such devices.
NGOs can set up a community tuition centre in which we can generate some local volunteers with local NGOs to lead this community tuition centre free of cost. And they can also provide them with some study material which they can use. And the government should prepare some better guidelines for them, which should be prepared to keep in view their difficulties and keeping in mind their future and future of our nation.