Online schooling and digital divide

At a time when all state governments, including Assam
Online schooling and digital divide

Kaustuvmoni Das

(The writer can be reached at

At a time when all state governments, including Assam, have suggested educational institutions continue their teaching activities through online mode instead of traditional institutional-based teaching to contain the spread of Covid-19 and comply with it, it is utmost necessary for students to have access to the required equipment like Smartphone, desktop, laptop etc., along with high-speed internet connectivity. But, still, for many students, it is a distant dream to be part of the online learning system. It does not doubt that the virtual education system has increased the inequality among students drastically. Most sufferers are from the economically poorer section of society. They have been suffering acutely from the online education system as they have been struggling to get their learning materials and keep up with their curriculum in this hour of crisis.

The state of Assam has over 4,032 secondary and higher secondary schools with over 13 lakh students, and it is the responsibility of the school authorities concerned to monitor whether their students get access to online education or not. And if not, they need to discuss the matter with the School Management Committee (SMC) as it is high time we had to give maximum priority to infrastructural requirements to adopt a virtual mode of learning. Otherwise, there is a high risk of exclusion of students from online schooling. The teacher, parents and social organizations need to come forward to help those students in their locality who are not able to use the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) effectively. There may be a range of troubles faced by students while attending online classes like app installation, login issues, audio and video problems etc., if these kinds of barriers get diluted, students can surely benefit from online education successfully.

On the other hand, many students of the state are still new to the digital world, basically, those who live in remote areas, which ignited the digital divide further among students. And a recent report published by the Union Ministry of Education has also highlighted the same, the report claimed that, in Assam, out of 47,157 government schools, only 11.44 per cent have computer facilities and 4.32 per cent of schools have an internet connection. If we go by these statistics, we could predict the hardships encountered by students from the financially weaker background and rural pockets of the state. The need of the hour is to strengthen online education by identifying policies via strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & challenges (SWOC) analysis to maximize the effectiveness of virtual learning. Along with this, we need to have an in-depth study on accessibility, affordability, and online pedagogy considering the importance of online-based education in this hour of uncertainty. Furthermore, targeted policy interventions should be framed to lower the pressure on parents and help teachers and schools make the most of digital learning so that students can reap the benefits in a hassle-free way.

The UNICEF in its concept note titled "Scaling-up digital learning and skills to accelerate progress towards SDG4" published in April 2021 stressed five crucial points namely – 1) connecting schools, every child and every youth to the internet, 2) providing children and youth with a range of devices like mobiles, laptops, desktop etc., to access the learning, 3) ensuring that content and data are affordable for students, teachers and schools, 4) investing in teacher training and scaling innovative practices to enable digital learning, and 5) addressing the barriers facing girls and young women to digital access to close the gender digital divide. The authority concerned needs to work on these points to make online education more efficient and fruitful for the students. It is worthwhile to mention here that the Assam Science Committee led by 29 eminent academicians has submitted a document titled "Education management in the situation of Covid-19" where they have suggested a bunch of recommendations to manage the education system in the time of the Covid-19 outbreak. In the said document, the committee has appealed to the state education minister to establish community learning centres in villages outfitted with necessary facilities for accessing online schooling for students who are deprived of online learning due to the lack of technologies in their homes. Such an initiative will downsize the digital divide, and it could be able to streamline online learning to some extent.

It may be mentioned here that the state cabinet has directed the Information and Technology Department to set up mobile phone towers across every nook and corner of the state to foster internet connectivity that has appeared as a major issue among students to connect uninterruptedly online classes. The State government's decision to the installation of mobile towers has also received a big boost from the Centre as it has approved the revised strategy of the 'BharatNet' project for broadband services in villages through the public-private partnership in Assam and other north-eastern states covering 3.61 lakh villages. If this project is executed in a war-footing, it will surely appear as a boon for students to access online schooling with high-speed broadband services and bridge the gap of the digital divide among the younger brigades of the state.

Top Headlines

No stories found.
Sentinel Assam