“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”- Mark Twain.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar said in the Lok Sabha, “No child was deprived of online education during the pandemic as the government had taken several steps in that direction.” A false statement from an individual holding a high portfolio is disappointing when the statistics and facts reveal something utterly contradictory.
A majority of Indian school students do not have the means or privilege for online education.
Accessible education has always been a challenge in India. The pandemic broadened the pre-existing gap making online education a commodity of sheer privilege. In the past 8-10 months, thousands of students have suffered due to the digital divide. Taking the example of the Indian state with the highest literacy rate of 96.2%, Kerala witnessed numerous cases where students took away their lives due to lack of accessibility to digital tools.
Mentioning these suicide cases does not advocate for or justify the steps taken by those students but merely highlights the blatant failure of the system and concerned authorities that drove young minds to take their own life. Not just that; for powering devices, access to electricity is crucial for digital education.
According to 2017-’18 survey reports by the Ministry of Rural Development, only 47% of the houses received electricity more than 12 hours a day. 66% of India’s population lives in villages where only 15% of rural households have access to internet services. Whereas in urban areas, it’s 42%. Moreover, India witnessed a spike in unemployment during the lockdown affecting the livelihood of millions.
15 y/o Shirin Riyaz Shah from Mumbai had one smart-phone between her and her four siblings over which they sat through Zoom and submitted their homework via WhatsApp. Their schedules didn’t merge well resulting in a feud. In most households with a meagre income, eating three meals a day was not guaranteed, purchasing costly internet plans or devices cost them a fortune. From mortgaging assets to cutting off on essential household expenses, families have done it all to make online education a possibility when the government schemes failed to reach the neediest.
According to Save The Children Fund, the Indian government spends about 3% of the nation’s GDP on education and only half the population has access to the internet. Laxman, a carpenter from Paschim Vihar, New Delhi, has no means of getting a smartphone with his scanty income. Just like Shirin and Laxman, thousands of students underwent massive inconvenience.
Of course, the government and MHRD launched several e-libraries, virtual labs, and e-learning platforms like Shagun Online Junction, DIKSHA, e-PATHSHALA, etc but everything narrows down to the fact that none of it makes sense without electronic gadgets and internet connectivity Although several NGOs, social groups and individuals stepped up to bridge this digital gap by sponsoring smartphones and laptops, the negligence by the authorities can’t be overlooked.
Despite the haunting statistics, if the Union Minister is consciously being ignorant of the reality and making deceptive comments in Lok Sabha about a crisis then it’s nothing but mocking the misery of thousands of struggling students and the lives lost. An ordinary Indian citizen expects its government is to at least acknowledge the problem. After all, how will one solve the problem if one does not acknowledge it!