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Let’s Talk about the Digital Divide

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

The long-lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected state-funded schools in India in (more than one) fundamental ways. As it aims to reposition itself in terms of social distancing for the capricious interregnum to the new normal, established modes of functioning, have come asunder. Not only will the shape, size and form of the classrooms change, but what’s taught and how will also undergo a radical change.

Let that sink in.

In 2015, while visiting a government school in Northeast India, I got a witness account of the lack of educational facilities, the ignorance towards basic parameters such as teacher attendance, infrastructure, learning tests, took me by surprise. I recognize my standpoint and acknowledge my position of privilege — as compared to the millions of children who were systematically deprived of quality education. This led to the birth of an initiative called the “Olive Green Foundation” that aimed to empower underprivileged children by providing quality education.

Today, the foundation works with 377 students in West Delhi, India. However, with the lockdown imposing a “new normal,” there are several unanticipated inversions for the institute. While setting up virtual classrooms was a smooth process, providing uniform access to students seems rather difficult. Those who don’t have access to computers or the internet, now lack access to education. The foundation is currently working to provide packets of materials to their homes, either through the mail or with school bus drivers wearing protective gear.

The question is, will remote learning lead the groups of students to become ever more remote? How to keep up their morale? How to verse along with the new normalcy? It is not merely a matter of students having access to iPads or laptops, it is also about the access to software/ data and most importantly, whether parents have the knowledge to support remote digital learning, and physical spaces to work.

India, currently, lacks the required infrastructure to teach its students digitally. These educational institutions have no set date for reopening despite growing concerns of various stakeholders over the prolonged educational lockdown’s immediate, short-term and long-term impacts on students and parents in particular and on. We need a more robust infrastructure to provide uninterrupted internet connection and electronic devices to students and hence narrow the digital divide. Therefore, it becomes imperative to learn from the initiatives of other countries and undertake appropriate measures. The provision of tablets and internet access in Coachella, USA was implemented in 2016 and has greatly helped the marginalized students in the area. The intervention received an overwhelmingly positive response from the students, which has encouraged many other cities in America to implement such a measure.

India also needs to implement such an initiative by providing digital devices and internet services in the hands of the marginalized students. The country has the advantage of the low cost of labour and production, which might help in the mass production of these technological devices. Internet services in India too, are among the cheapest in the world, and hence, the provision of the internet will be more affordable.

Given the low cost of internet, labour, and production, the provision of such goods and services for marginalized students should increase attendance rates and make quality education a possibility for more. This will act as a stimulus to the education sector and will also narrow the digital divide.

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