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Digital divide between ‘have’ and ‘have not’ deepens – and so does student despair – education

One smartphone, three siblings equals zero online classes. The crude equation of Mohit Ahirwar, the son of a worker, explains not only his own learning situation, but that of millions of students on the other side of the digital divide.

The huge gulf between the ‘have-nots’ and the ‘haves’ with access to the devices and stable internet connections necessary for an online education, be it preschool or graduate school, became much wider when LSR student Aishwarya Reddy ended her life at her Hyderabad home this month because her parents couldn’t afford a laptop or smartphone.

Her father, G Srinivas Reddy, an auto mechanic who mortgaged his home and suspended his youngest daughter’s education so Aishwarya could go to the prestigious Delhi University, said he needed a device to attend classes online and had even asked help. But concerns, including fees and the scholarship, mounted and the 19-year-old was found hanging at her home on November 2.

As the spotlight turned to a crisis of increasing magnitude, 16-year-old Ahirwal, a 10th-grader at a public school in Jammu, wondered how he would cope. You don’t know the term “digital divide,” but you are good at math and have come up with your own calculations to underscore the hopelessness of your situation.

“One smartphone, three siblings equals zero online classes. My father is a laborer. We have a smartphone that you take with you when you go to work. So my 12-year-old sister and I cannot attend classes online. My brother already dropped out of school for this and is now learning carpentry, ”he told PTI.

“I asked my father if we could have another phone. He said he would try, ”the teenager added in a practical tone.

Speaking to the maturity of someone much older, Ahirwar said that his father earns between 15,000 and 20,000 rupees a month, just enough to make ends meet, and certainly not to buy a device.

The lack of devices is not the only obstacle. Low internet speeds are another.

Like him, many students are battling the multiple challenges of education in the era of the pandemic, which has forced schools and universities across the spectrum to switch from physical classes to online classes since March. Competing with siblings and parents for ‘device time’, struggling with poor internet connections, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, where 4G is banned and in remote areas, and frequent power outages are among the many obstacles in their path to quality learning. The writing on the wall is clear: Online learning is a luxury that not everyone in India can afford.

Across the country, only one in 10 households has a computer, desktop, laptop, or tablet, according to a 2017-18 National Statistical Office (NSO) report. Additionally, only 23.8 percent of households have Internet access and 12.5 percent of the country’s 35 million students have access to smartphones, he added.

The digital divide exists even in India’s most elite universities and is creating a gap that is deepening as COVID-19 continues to spread. The uncertainty about a situation that shows no signs of ending is creating its own set of problems.

A digital survey conducted by LSR, to which 1,450 of the university’s 2,000 students submitted their responses, showed that nearly 30 percent of its students did not have a laptop of their own, while 40 percent said they attended classes. online without a proper internet connection. . More than 95 percent of the students said that the online classes had affected their mental and physical health.

One of the students who participated and raised concerns about online classes in the survey was Aishwarya Reddy.

It is a brutal “online” world, as Reddy learned and Ahirwar is learning.

The names of Devika Balakrishnan, daughter of a day laborer in Kerala, Shibani Kumari, whose father is a truck driver in West Bengal, do not ring a bell like Ahirwar. Both were Class 10 students and ended their lives because they didn’t have phones to attend their classes online in June, just three months after the national shutdown.

But Rajni Gupta, Ahirwar’s teacher at Government Higher Secondary School in Jammu, knows them and worries about what the future holds.

The stories are many, some result in desperate students ending their lives in frustration and others about parents, who barely earn enough to feed their families, and sell what little they own to buy that precious smartphone.

“I have more than 100 students in my class. But my zoom classes so far haven’t been over 20. Most of the parents are low-income, hard-working people. How can we expect them to give their children a computer, laptop or smartphone? Gupta asked. The issue of internet availability only widens the gap.

According to the 2017-18 National Sample Survey on Education report, only 24% of Indian households have access to the Internet. While 66 percent of the population of India lives in villages, just over 15 percent of rural households have access to Internet services; for urban households, the proportion is 42 percent.

The situation is worse for students in classes 10 and 12. All of their learning content is now available online only and they need one GB of data per hour, which is very difficult, argued Sant Ram, district secretary (West A ) at the Public School Teachers Association (GSTA), Delhi.

“Only 25 percent of children who attend public schools have access to mobile phones, and those are not personal devices; they usually belong to their parents and the phones are taken with them when they go to work. These students are increasingly developing an inferiority complex because they are lagging behind in their education, ”he added.

The result: an alarming number of dropouts.

A survey by the NGO Save the Children revealed that children in 62 percent of Indian households have interrupted their education since the coronavirus pandemic. 7,235 families from 15 states in India were surveyed between June 7-30.

Many institutions are coming up with different solutions to help students and their parents in these tumultuous times.

The NGO ChildFund, for example, is following what it calls a “blended approach”, a combination of offline and online, in 2,500 public schools in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. He is organizing “neighborhood classes” following the rules of social distancing, distributing books, making phone calls and even visiting homes to continue the learning. “Our combined approach leans more towards offline solutions like storybooks, conversation diagrams, workbooks, worksheets, as well as ensuring a contact component…” said educator Aekta Chand, who works with ChildFund India .

“In the future, we believe that reopening schools slowly is the only way, even if it means that children come in very small groups only once a week,” he added.

While states like Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh or Maharashtra have allowed schools to reopen, in some cases restricted only to the upper classes, many, including Delhi and Odisha, have so far decided not to.

The Tamil Nadu government has reversed its decision to reopen schools and universities as of November 16.


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