digital-divide-in-education

CONTEXT

The rise of the pandemic has accelerated online education but also exposed a deep digital divide with more than 30% of students not having access to online learning.

DATA

  • Study by Oxfam India found that even among students of urban private schools, half of the parents reported issues with Internet signal and speed. A third struggled with the cost of mobile data.
  • Merely, 20% of school-age children in India had access to remote education during the pandemic, of whom only half participated in live online lessons.
  • According to a survey, 38% of households said at least one child had dropped out of school due to COVID-19.

DIGITAL DIVIDE IN EDUCATION 

  • Socio-economic issue: There is a digital divide which is not educational, but a socio-economic one. The material poor are also the digital poor.
    • The most basic is the divide between the digital haves and have-nots, a reflection of economic inequality.
  • Shifts towards a materialistic philosophy in education in the neoliberal era: it has been caused by four structural developments:
    • entrepreneurship-led economic growth powered by innovation and technology
    • increasing knowledge intensity of production
    • a borderless world facilitating knowledge flows
    • knowledge explosion, coeval with knowledge implosion.
  • Disproportionate effect on women: women are proportionately more disadvantaged when it comes to the usage of digital devices.
  • 3 Dimensional problem:
    • Accessibility Divide: it is not necessarily a rich-poor divide, it is also the divide between students in the remote rural areas and parishioner urban areas where connectivity is either slow or intermittent. Bureaucracy, corruption, technology support and infrastructure are some of the causes.
    • Generational divide: The second dimension is the gap between generations – that is, between teachers and parents vs. students.
      • Parents are wary of giving devices to kids because of misuse.
      • Teachers are hesitant to change their pedagogy for fear of losing their relevance.
    • Behavioural divide: it is the gap between those who can learn on their own, with or without social setting, vs. those who cannot.Many women, girls, minorities and migrants shun digital access for learning because it is either too boring to learn on their own or too antisocial.

National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR)

  • The blueprint of NDEAR was recently released by the government.
  • It was set up as a digital pathway to the policy goals envisioned in the National Education Policy, 2020.
  • It takes on an ‘Open Digital Ecosystem’ approach where a set of principles, standards, specifications, building blocks and guidelines seek to enable different entities to create elements of the digital education ecosystem.
  • The principle at its core is interoperability, i.e., enabling disparate education related tech systems to interact seamlessly, rather than operating in silos, thereby multiplying the possibilities of impact.
  • The uniqueness of NDEAR is not building a new app but about connecting what already exists.
    • It is about reimagining how technology can be leveraged to upgrade the entire education ecosystem for deploying tailored EdTech solutions speedily, sustainably and at population scale.

Making NDEAR more effective

  • According to 2019-20 data, only 38.5% of schools across the country had computers and 22.3% of schools had an internet connection. Therefore, it is crucial that the NDEAR vision is supplemented by concerted policy efforts to equip schools with the necessary ICT infrastructure, like Kerala’s KITE enabled interventions.
  • It is important to recognise the role parents play in both monitoring and facilitating their children’s learning, and engaging them meaningfully. This would help in building the legitimacy of digital learning.
  • There is a need to ensure that the data rights of children remain secure. The compliance with the upcoming Personal Data Protection Bill, with additional safeguards given the target audience of this platform, is significant.
  • NDEAR’s development should be firmly anchored in an ‘accountable institution’ that can guide its quick development while providing independent oversight needed for the management of the platform.

WAY FORWARD

  • Economic Security: The solution hinges on guaranteeing economic security with assured basic income through provision of universal property rights. Article 21A now guarantees the right to education for children in the 6-14 age group. This progressive step should be extended to all sectors and levels of education.
  • Financing: 
    • Increased budget allocation: enhancing budget allocation by reordering fiscal priorities, and applying methods like zero-based/ outcome budgeting etc.
    • Policy measures: put education at the centre of economic or development policy formulation.
    • Involving the corporate sector: the corporate sector should be involved not just through CSR, but as part of academic social responsibility, in return for special concessions and incentives.

Technology has the potential to achieve universal quality education and improve learning outcomes. The digital divide and the embedded gender divide must be addressed to unleash its potential. Access to technology and the Internet is an urgent requirement in the information age, it should no longer be a luxury.Education today is not a question of charity, but a matter of right.

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