With Covid-19 disrupting all the hitherto establish modes of living, studying, and working in our society, more activities are being moved online. This is aimed at continuing our stream of activities but in a different mode so as to ensure that no business or endeavour is fatally suffering from this pandemic. While this might not be fully possible for every aspect of existence, it is a method to try and maintain a semblance of normalcy in our everyday activities. Most IT companies have moved completely online and allow all their workers to work from home. Restaurants and hotels rely highly on apps that deliver food to continue their business, and even education is now gearing to completely move online. This seems well and good at first glance but the question of whether this can ever be successful in a country like India is a serious one.
Our country is a developing one, where the majority of the population still lives in rural areas and the internet is not a luxury that everyone can afford nor have access to. While the need to continue education is important, one might ask at what cost this is being done. Even when we talk about work from home, we are all aware that a very narrow part of the population has this privilege. Daily wage workers do not get to work from home and they have no option but to risk their lives in the midst of the pandemic if the government itself fails to take care of them. Small scale industries and shops all close down. We have a massive economic crisis on our hands but alongside this, we need to understand that there will be a widening of the educational gap, a crisis whose effects we will start to fully comprehend in a couple of months.
Most middle-class and upper-class households are able to comply with the needs of online learning since they own laptops and smartphones. They also have enough money for data and internet connections. However, it is still a stark reality that education in rural India and amongst lower-class households is extremely limited owing to factors of economy and access, as well as gender and caste. India supposedly houses 430 million persons below the age of 18 many of whom come from rural settings. Only 47% of households in India have electricity for more than 12 hours a day according to a survey that the Ministry of Rural Development conducted in 2017-18. It is an eye-opener to the urban citizen that only 24% of Indians own a smartphone. And one must remember that in a household with more than one child, there has to be multiple gadgets for all of them to receive their education.
66% of India’s population lives in villages and an extremely minuscule portion of them will even be able to attend classes of any sort. The development of our country and much of its economy is reliant on these villages but if we forget them in this hour of need, the consequences will be hazardous for the whole country. If we do not take aggressive measures to tackle these problems and provide materials resources to those in need so that their children can access classes, the current online education system will create a massive digital divide that will cause a majority of the Indian population to suffer. It will impair their access to a better life and opportunity, any attempt to get on par with their privileged peers would largely result in failure and this will drive many to lives of low economic value, toil, suffering, and access. This will be carried forward into their coming generations. Unless addressed, it will lead to a systemic denial of the fundamental right to education and opportunity, and hence, while attending our own online lectures, we should take this very seriously and implement measures to better this situation in every possible way. This is not the only problem that online education creates but it is by far the most important.