Consequences of growing digital divide

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    Recently, the Supreme Court warned that the digital divide caused by online classes will defeat the fundamental right of every child to education. 

    Background

    • The court was hearing a petition filed by private school managements challenging a Delhi High Court order of September 2020, directing them to provide their 25% quota EWS/DG students online facilities free of cost. 
    • The High Court had said the schools could get reimbursement from the government.
    • The Delhi government had earlier appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court order, saying it had no resources to reimburse the schools for the online gadgets. 
    • Though the Supreme Court had stayed the High Court order in February 2021, the Bench led by Justice Chandrachud said both the Centre and States such as Delhi could not bow out of their responsibilities towards children.
    • The Bench asked the Delhi government to come out with a plan to effectuate the ‘salutary object’ upheld in the High Court decision. 
    • The court said even though schools are now reopening gradually due to the receding curve of the pandemic ,there is a need to provide adequate computer based equipment together with access to online facilities for children is of the utmost importance”

    What is the digital divide ?

    • The digital divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology and those that don’t have access.
    • The digital divide encompasses the technical and financial ability to utilize available technology, along with access (or lack of access) to the Internet.
    • Digital divides exist between developed and developing countries, urban and rural populations, young and educated versus older and less-educated individuals, and men and women.
    • The urban-rural divide is the single biggest factor in the digital divide.
    • The consequences of the digital divide include isolation, which can affect mental health; educational barriers as post-secondary education increasingly moves online; and worsening gender discrimination.

    Consequences of Covid-19 and Digital Divide on Education

    • Lack of Gadgets and connectivity 
      • Students lack laptops, tablets or personal mobiles along with the poor or no net connectivity, concerns of distraction on the phones.
        • Children belonging to the Economically Weaker Sections [EWS]/Disadvantaged Groups [DG] had to suffer the consequence of not having to fully pursue their education or worse still drop out because of the lack of access to the Internet and computers.
        • Little children have dropped out of school and even run the danger of being drawn into child labour or worse, child trafficking.
    • Due to the lack of physical classroom teaching, a feeling of isolation is developing in the minds of students.
    •  Trauma of the second wave
      • The trauma of the second wave will put a deep imprint on the student’s mind, leading to an irreconcilable contradiction and ordinary family members will not be in a position to address the issue.
    • Technical constraints
      • Educational institutes and teachers also face technical constraints and a majority of them are not able to use them with ease.
      • Parents face difficulty in adjusting to the whole online system, amid the added household responsibilities.
      • A lot of subjects need practical and physical teaching including beauty culture, fashion design and tailoring, office management, travel and tourism, web design etc., so it is difficult to teach them online.

    Suggestions

    • Addressing the digital divide requires special, urgent and focused efforts of the government.
    •  A large investment needs to be made, year after year, in digital infrastructure. 
      • The establishment of a Broadband Infrastructure Fund with a large corpus from private, multilateral and government sources, including spectrum auction revenues, is a must. 
    • An empowered entity needs to be set up which is accountable for quality and timeliness to design and construct digital highways, their rural branches, and ensure their optimum utilisation by sharing the infrastructure
    • Digital skills, required today both for life and for livelihoods, must be imparted on a war footing by transforming government digital literacy programmes into skilling missions, expanding outreach, including through the private sector.
    • The last mile delivery of services has to be made a reality and connectivity, devices and handholding assistance of trained persons at village service centres, schools and clinics is imperative.

    Initiatives to Boost Education Sector

    • Dhimsa Community Radio Center :It was set up by South Odisha Voluntary Action (SOVA), which is a Koraput based non-profit organisation (NPO).
      • It initially started broadcasting educational content for students in 2016.
      • It started focusing on special education programmes when the classroom studies stopped, after the outbreak of the Covid-19, with an aim to close the digital divide in education.
    • ‘Focus’: The Government Vocational Higher Secondary School in Payyoli (Kerala )has joined hands with Thikkodi gram panchayat and Payyoli municipality to set up 250 free public wi-fi points across the region to support the online education of its students. 
      • It is named ‘focus’
    • PM e-VIDYA: Launched to enable multi-mode access to education.
    • One class-One Channel: Dedicated TV channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12.
    • E-PG Pathshala: An initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to provide e-content for studies.
    • NEAT: Aims to use Artificial Intelligence to make learning more personalised and customised as per the requirements of the learner
    • SWAYAM: Integrated platform for online courses for school and higher education.
    • IITPAL: For the preparation of IITJEE/NEET.
    • PRAGYATA: Under it, only 30 minutes of screen time per day for interacting with parents is recommended for kindergarten, nursery and pre-school.
    • Digitally Accessible Information System: Study material for the differently-abled persons with sign language.
    • Manodarpan Initiative: Provides support related to mental health and emotional wellbeing through a website, a toll-free helpline and chat.
    • New National Curriculum and Pedagogical Framework: It is rooted in the Indian ethos and integrated with global skill requirements.
    • National Foundational Literacy and Numeracy Mission: Ensures that every child in the country necessarily attains foundational literacy and numeracy in Grade 3 by 2020.
    • Other Initiatives: National Project on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), National Knowledge Network, (NKN) and National Academic Depository (NAD), etc.
    • DIKSHA Platform: ‘One nation-one digital platform’ for providing quality e-content in school education.

    Source:TH