How technology will help stem inequities in education
As we take on the challenge of reconstruction post-Covid, addressing the mounting crisis of inequity is most vital to move forward. The prolonged closure of factories and offices impacted livelihoods, with children’s education going for a toss. A report by Azim Premji University points out that the lockdowns pushed 23 crore Indians into poverty between 2020 and 2021.
Over 25 crore students across the country were forced out of school since mid-March 2020. As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2021), 65.4 percent of teachers said that their biggest challenge is that students are unable to catch up. Nearly a third of all children in Classes I and II do not have a smartphone at home. The reports point out that a stark digital divide is leading to poor accessibility.
Education is an important dimension for us to improve as a society. It contributes to social and economic growth. The persistent inequities of access, resources and outcomes often rooted in either geographical or economic disadvantages, deeply impact children’s fundamental right to education.
More than 25 crore students across the country were forced out of school since mid-March 2020
India has nearly 500 million people in the working-age group, which makes our domestic labour market second only to China's and far bigger than that of the United States and the European Union. We also have a much younger population, with an average age of 26.8 years. As per a World Economic Forum (WEF) report, India has the second-highest additional employment potential through upskilling. We can add 2.3 million jobs by 2030, second only to the US's 2.7 million jobs, says the WEF report. That’s a huge zone of opportunity, and we need to provide a fair ground of access to all.
As of 2019-20, the total number of schools in India was 1.5 million and out of these, around 1.26 million schools are in rural areas. Around 51.25 percent or 32.5 million of MSMEs, the country’s largest employers, are in the rural areas. Employment in MSMEs, agriculture, dairy, fisheries and fertilisers offer huge opportunities for local development and have the potential to stall migration to urban areas. Hence, expanding education and skilling plans to rural areas and increasing access of rural youth to quality jobs and education/reskilling provisions is paramount to improving GDP growth.
The government has initiated measures to improve learning outcomes with a special emphasis on e-content, like the Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM), PM e-Vidya, radio and TV broadcasts for those with special needs, e- pathshala, the National Educational Alliance for Technology (NEAT) for Higher Education, and so on.
Through the Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing or DIKSHA, students are provided NCERT and CBSE books, and can access the portal’s 2,685 courses by scanning the QR code on the app.
Surveys done by School Children’s Online And Off-Line Learning (SCHOOL) and ASER point out the poor outcomes in online education. Only 8 percent of children in rural areas and 25 percent of children in urban areas were able to study online regularly in 2021. Poor penetration of devices and connectivity issues have been the bane of online studies in India. For accessibility to improve, what is needed is access to devices, to value-enhancing content, and education.
A low-cost tablet provides access to not just a child but the entire family can reap the gains of better access and communication capabilities. The availability of multiple language conversions can further improve outcomes. For accessibility, the tablet offers far superior value than an economic smartphone as it’s able to stream audio/video content and AR/VR better.
Today, we are talking of digital avatars and mixed reality empowering the manufacturing sector, technology has pervaded all sectors, nearly 100 startups have emerged in the space sector alone—and all this shows our abundant capabilities.
Poor penetration of devices and connectivity issues have been some of the key challenges to online education in India.
Favourable reforms and disruptions have been introduced by the government like Aadhaar linked transactions, UPI, and so on. Technology helps to sustain economies and unlock values at scale. We can use it to reverse the learning loss. Apart from the forced contactless times, online learning is also a new model of home school that can come to the rescue of those kids who are unable to enroll formally, and could also help in reiterating lessons learnt at school—provided there is access to devices and internet connectivity.
The EPIC Foundation’s 10-inch Made In India Aakash-Ganga tablets are a holistic look at indigenization as the tablets are upgradable and repairable (giving it long life, and therefore more economic), reusable (for others in family), and recyclable (to deal with the problem of e-waste), and aimed to make a marked difference in the growth of indigenous talent and last-mile delivery.
Students enrolled in schools get lectures and when they come home, they need to listen to them again, that’s how learning happens. So irrespective of the pandemic, a tablet in the hands of each child in the country is an empowering tool.
We have huge advantages in tech in our country that we can leverage for our development goals to create even newer models of citizen-focused deliveries. Pandemic helped to evolve our narrative as a nation with largescale vaccine drives and start-ups that helped us emerge as a thinking nation. By bridging our inequity gaps through education, we can continue to tell our story to the west. Our children are the future of tomorrow.
What better storytellers can we find?
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)