The COVID-19 pandemic has brought life to a standstill. The initial months saw the imposition of a complete lockdown. For the first time all shops, businesses, schools and colleges were shut due to the deadly virus’ contagious nature.
As we retrospect, we realise that the efforts made to control the situation completely altered our lives. Thus, life had to be brought back to normal. This “new normal” has several conditions prescribed to it.
The validity of this viewpoint can be elucidated upon by focusing on how education had to continue despite educational institutions remaining closed. The digitisation of education seemed like a plausible alternative. Various online platforms which were previously unrecognised were called upon to facilitate this shift.
However, in a country like India, where there is a huge digital divide in urban and rural areas, this was no easy task and came with many challenges. Several groups criticised the idea of taking education online as it reinforces socio-economic inequalities.
Several students from underprivileged backgrounds lack access to smartphones and stable networks, both of which are indispensable for effectively accessing online education.
The School Changemakers’ Program attendees attempted to bring this issue to light through their comprehensive presentation. The first point on their agenda was to recognise the problem regarding the factors contributing to this inequality. On listing down the effects of limited access, they highlighted how the mental strain caused by the lockdown manifested itself in higher suicide rates amongst school-going teenagers.
Lastly, they evaluated potential policy solutions that could have ensured wider access to online education. The changemakers highlighted their perspectives on the educational disconnect. They talked about how an online platform can never replace a classroom atmosphere. Similarly, the extensive screen time and lack of physical activity; all effects of long virtual classes, take a toll on one’s health.
A survey was done to record the opinions of various stakeholders and the data showed that only 17% of the students found it easy to study digitally while a majority yearned for on-campus education. On the other hand, the parents provided a sharp contrast. Out of concern for their children’s health and keeping the current situation in mind, 60% of them favoured online platforms. However, they were worried about the students’ lack of attention to online classes.
It is important to note that despite the various shortcomings of online education, it is the only solution during these troubling times. Hence, the key to amending the educational disconnect is to ensure that the solutions are contextualised to the Indian climate. When it comes to practical subjects like physics, reliance on online platforms cannot be trusted.
Similarly, there is a need to ensure proper access to Microsoft Office and similar applications to ensure a smooth transition. The present reality is far from this. Seeing the tremendous academic pressure, parents should provide their children with continuous encouragement to keep their mental health in check.
By Gracy Singh