With the waves of Coronavirus that hit the country, India has become one amongst the most affected nations in the world. It has elicited a rather irrecoverable impact on the Indian economy and geo-political climate. But, what about the education system?
The widening gap between a section of the society that has access to tools, devices or any basic infrastructure to gain online education with other resources and those who do not, is known as the ‘digital divide.’ While social issues such as inequality and deprivation of facilities aren’t new to society, the pandemic has worsened the degree of the aforementioned problems. Mint, an online news portal in a report, claimed that 80% of the students in India were unable to access online education during lockdown (Bloomberg, 2020). The Indian Express in an article reported that according to UNICEF, only 24% of urban Indian households have internet facilities (Press Trust of India, 2020). It is not surprising that a large section of the Indian demography are the ‘have nots,’ and are technologically challenged. The catch lies in the fact that India has over 1.5 billion students (Jayagopal, P. et.al, 2020). This makes only 360 million students – online learners. The rest – one billion plus, are those, skipping an entire year of academic progression since the beginning of the pandemic; the digital divide is a crucial issue.
National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) contends that rural children who were out of school just before the pandemic, were from socially disadvantaged sections, making economic barriers an unavoidable factor. Electricity, which is the power source for WiFi, laptops and smartphones, is only available in 47% of Indian households for 12 plus hours, according to a 2017-18 survey conducted by The Ministry of Rural Development. The supply of electricity as well as implementation of smart learning through smart boards in Indian schools is also irregular (Modi & Postaria. 2020). The implementations of different government schemes that could bridge the digital divide have proved to be minimally effective, adding onto the growing gap. The history of social exclusion for certain classes, prejudice and discrimination on the basis of gender and caste are suggestible factors, making the poor, even deprived, and in turn, increasing the educational disparity in the wake of the virus. Educational psychology helps us understand the impacts of this digital divide on the learning process of the students, especially those who are on the wrong side of the boat. Therefore, fathoming the aforementioned possible causes of digital divide becomes vital to act prosocial and judge the phenomenon through a psychological perspective.
Online education: Pothole in the divide
When UNICEF took intensive surveys across 6 states, it was found that due to poor mental health and absence of means to e-learning, students are unable to grasp the teachings from lecturers (Sarkar, K. 2021). The digital divide doesn’t only put the destitute, like backward classes and tribal communities on a back foot, but also adversely affects those who do have access to the same.
The black in the white
Due to lack of motivation caused by mental fatigue and the distress elicited by multitasking, students are found on the downside. The issue worsens in the case of online education for pre-primary and nursery children, with demanding tasks of handling their temperament through a mere screen. Establishment of low or no rapport with the teachers induces confusion and disinterest. A psychiatrist and founder of Live Life Education, Dr Kannan Gireesh explained, “they are facing health problems like eye strain, headaches and body fatigue from seeing the screen for a long time,” in an article (Nandy, S. 2020).
Additionally, the risks of becoming obese due to lack of exercise has increased. Research provides proof that the current generation of students are more likely to have personality issues in the long run; may develop avoidant personality or in extreme cases antisocial personality (Rivers, D. 2021). Furthermore, the cases of students stuck in abusive households have no other choice than to resort to online learning in the pandemic, giving no room for an escape; previously procured by attending on-campus instructions. Investigators of home schooling and remote learning asserted the need that school districts, child protective services and other agencies should create and apply novel measures to avoid child abuse and maltreatment (Neal. J. 2020).
No white in the black
The pros of the dynamic shift to online mode of acquiring knowledge don’t seem to outweigh its cons; expanding the divide. The aforementioned larger social concern plays a great role in determining the potential to practically give better solutions; which seems to be less, since only after providing equipment to education in a pandemic, can we look at solving issues arising with the same for all. Weak signals in rural areas make it extremely taxing to gain remote learning. Not only are the majority of youth dispossessed of such innovative devices; educational institutions, particularly the government aided public schools, don’t have qualified school counsellors to look into the possibilities of rural children developing or going through a mental stress. School and educational psychology becomes vital in gauging such issues. With less or no income during the lockdown, students from rural areas experienced a rise in the potential to develop tailbone issues such as Coccydynia and malnutrition; physiological conditions that have a direct impact on their capacity to learn, given the chance. The rising cases of school drop-outs and suicides due to absence of amenities to continue studies, financial instability, stressors, and conflicts in the pandemic, including limited access to professional help, make a clear case for discontinuing e-learning (Agoramoorthy, G. 2021). To bridge the digital divide, we need to decrease the existing disadvantages of online education.
After reliable exploration in the subject area, it’s safe to say that the digital divide would take more than just introduction and implementation of schemes and programs by governmental and non – governmental organisations. Research asserts that the cycle of low income and literacy level is broadening the digital divide and playing as factors that explain the racial disparity and issues that still haven’t been completely solved today (Steele, C. 2018). The fact that a lot of students who are privileged enough, who have access to tools and devices for e-learning are the ones who are given the opportunity to vocalise about the issues that the underprivileged are facing, is a paradox that’s worth mentioning. The aspects of fathoming and applying lessons that enriches and eases the learners from different backward classes, is very limited in knowledge since the digital divide has stopped the academic, social and personal progression of such students. We need to educate those learners the importance of continuing education since it shapes their personality.
In the premise of the Coronavirus elicited global pandemic and the time old huge digital divide, the destitute and technologically illiterate are regressing in terms of development. Although there are considerable measures taken by NGOs and initiatives such as OutLawed India who continue to provide legal awareness amongst the socially disadvantaged students amidst the pandemic (Shekar, S. 2021), we still have a long way to go. While students who have access to technological education are also influenced in their personal growth, it limits to only such sections of the society. The government and private educators should perhaps, primarily reduce and if possible, eliminate the constraint of economic inequality to offer a likelihood of collective egalitarian, mentally healthy and nurturing educational growth, contributing to diminish the educational disparity.
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