How online schooling has forced India to confront the digital divide and how it could be bridged – education
The pandemic has accelerated digital adoption across all sectors, including education, which has seen one of the fastest disruptions in teaching, assisted learning, and the virtual reality space. From virtual classrooms, online assessments, smart learning tools, and continuous learning options for professionals, to skill enhancement degrees, hobby classes, online tuition payments for schools, AI-powered educational entertainment solutions, and parent engagement and teachers, technology solutions for the education sector have evolved tremendously! Especially during the times of COVID, when physical classrooms have been closed, the technological solutions adopted by schools ensure that education is uninterrupted, through the use of various online learning tools. However, despite the efforts, there has been a great disparity in access to online education, especially in urban and rural areas, thanks to the digital divide that has now been exposed due to COVID.
The main reasons for the lack of access to online education due to the socio-economic situation of parents or as part of the collective infrastructure challenge include:
Unstable Internet connectivity: Although we are among some of the largest smartphone consumers, as a country, and we are the second largest in terms of Internet penetration, the consistency of a strong broadband connection is still a top reasons for lack of Internet access. learning. While there is talk already about setting up a 5G network, existing and lower bandwidth 4G connectivity continues to be disrupted or inconsistent.
· Lack of access to a device: Although smartphones are still popular and can be useful to access education online, they are not always easily available to children / the whole family. In most cases, it is the parent or both parents with a smartphone, who may or may not be able to store it regularly for children. They may also lack a common computer, such as a desktop or laptop, for the home, making access to online learning challenging for children.
Unstable electrical connection which is vital for charging devices and Wi-Fi: Although internet access and a valid device remain a challenge, one of the main drawbacks of digital learning is often the lack of basic elements like a stable electrical connection and a solid Wi-Fi network. Not just charging, but most urban / rural homes lack backup power (inverter / genset) and power outage usually occurs in the mornings / afternoons in residential areas to provide supply to local industries and, therefore, the most important period for classes is spent without stable energy.
· Language barrier: even as we work to make the Internet inclusive and accessible, language as a mode of learning remains a major issue. As most of the content available on the web is in English, or to some extent even Hindi, other vernacular languages that form an important medium for learning in various parts of the country have yet to make their mark in the digital space.
· Lack of confidence in digital learning: While digital / online learning is considered an advanced feature, it is still an additional tool to support learning in the classroom. In the absence of traditional teacher-student interaction, most parents feel that online learning is not complete enough and lacks the “discipline” brought about by the presence of a teacher. In addition, parents also fear the access to a large amount of information not related to learning and leisure that the child may have, when left to online learning methods, in an unsupervised environment. While parents would need to monitor and assist children during online classes, they cannot spend 100% of the time on them. From watching YouTube videos and games to browsing websites (even with child blocking or supervision turned on), not only can it be a huge waste of time, but it can also expose kids to content that isn’t intended for be consumed.
· Not-So-Tech-Friendly Parents and Teachers – Many parents and teachers are in the stage of being well versed in new age applications. Especially in rural or backward areas, the use of smartphones has been limited to entertainment, news and communications. However, with digital learning, many teachers are faced with the challenge of mastering technology. At the same time, parents are also faced with the task of becoming better accustomed to technology and learning to handle things in order to be able to teach / supervise their children to benefit from online learning, a task that not many parents are willing to do. To make.
While there has been a lot of interest and support from the government in digitizing education, with policies like ‘Digital India; which are helping to create better access, the recent ‘National Education Policy’ which has made ‘digital learning’ an important part of education, and ‘Digital Enhancement of India’, the onus remains with schools. Schools and colleges must work with parents and teachers, and update and personalize online learning for their students. This can be done through:
· Cheaper / Discounted Data Packages – Schools in rural or backward areas can help save data for deserving students and provide them with free or subsidized data packages to access educational apps / content / websites.
· Custom solutions: The Indian education system currently operates multiple boards like CBSE, ICSE, IB and then local state boards. The curriculum, content and teaching styles, etc. vary dramatically. Personalization is key for schools looking to create an integrated virtual learning experience for their students. Several educational technology startups are working closely with educational institutes to customize solutions that meet the needs of their teachers and students, while ensuring profitable technology investments. Additionally, curating content in the vernacular is also an important part of personalizing education to accommodate parents and children who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
· Teacher training: Ensuring that teachers are comfortable with the new digital classroom format is extremely important for virtual classrooms to be a success. A change from chalk and blackboard, presentation style teaching to a virtual or recorded teaching method is just as difficult for teachers as it is for students to adopt. Proper training and guidance for teachers can help them enter the technological domain of teaching and can lead to effective learning for children.
· Investing in technology infrastructure: A functional and effective technology infrastructure is vital for schools or any educational institute, to ensure that tools and training can be used effectively. The best educational technology solutions can become ineffective with basic infrastructure such as a strong broadband connection and the relevant devices needed to host a virtual classroom.
· Technological solutions beyond learning tools: when it comes to educational technology, the most common understanding is that it is limited to learning technology. However, many schools / educational institutes are waking up to the benefits of the ‘digitization’ of school operations and administrative tasks. From tools such as live streaming of a physical classroom for the benefit of students unable to attend in person, to offering facial recognition technology for attendance, installing CCTV cameras in the classroom and on school grounds to monitor social distancing norms, using enhanced CRM and communication tools. to interact with parents, etc., can go a long way towards ensuring smooth, flawless and productive running of schools. It also helps take the load off the shoulders of teachers, who can then focus on their core qualities and not get bogged down by additional tasks.
Even as most students, parents, and schools are embracing the realities of e-learning, education technology solution providers are working tirelessly to create a more inclusive and adaptable digital learning ecosystem. In the post-COVID era, as in other sectors, education will also continue to integrate these new technological innovations for a fluid and effective education system. Therefore, it is imperative that schools and educational institutions work towards accelerated adoption of these solutions, in order to bridge the digital divide.
(The author is Ashish Chaturvedi, Founder – School Journal. Opinions expressed are personal)