It has been months since COVID-19 pandemic took its roots in the subcontinent, bringing forth major changes in almost all sectors. Our education system was no exception as schools and colleges were one of the first establishments to shut down in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading further.
What followed was cancellation of exams, boards and regular, and putting a hold on classes from primary level to university. But the effects on the studies of the students and their careers couldn’t be ignored. This is where education through online channels rose in popularity to minimize the negative effects on the students.
A lot of schools and colleges across the subcontinent turned to apps like Zoom and Google Classroom to conduct classes and give out assignments. This seemed to work well for a while too, giving rise to the possibility of integrating online means of education into the mainstream system in future.
But is it really possible? Is everything as good as it seems? These were the questions in my mind when a couple of days ago I read an interview of Himanshu Raj, the 15 year old who topped the Class 10th exams of Bihar Board this year.
Hailing from a remote village in Rohtas, Bihar, Himanshu scored 96.2% to come out on top in the entire state but the journey there was anything but easy. The son of a farmer- Himanshu’s studies were severely affected due to the lockdown with regular classes being on hold and most of the study material being delivered to students via digital channel.
He didn’t own a smartphone or laptop, which he could have used to study and neither did his parents. Fortunately, his aunt owned a smartphone which he and all his cousins used in turns to study as it was the only one in their entire family.
Due to his constant efforts and a bit of luck in being able to acquire a device to keep up with his peers, Himanshu was able to take a step forward towards his dreams but what about millions of other kids, from families who can’t afford smartphones and a stable internet connection?
One may argue that smartphones and other devices are a lot more affordable and even data packs are a lot more cheaper now, while that may be true for most of us and a majority of middle class and lower middle class people, the ones I want to focus on are kids and students belonging to impoverished families that have a tough time making their ends meet.
Now I am not going to fish out big numbers stating how many poor are in our country or how many are living without basic necessities because that would take an entirely different write-up. What I want to focus on is the fact that Indian education system has never been one of equality even with regular means- adding on the necessity of a working device and stable internet connection will just make the disparity between the ones privileged and one that are not, even more glaring.
And this goes for not only students at school level but for higher education as well. I have personally seen peers belonging from poor families, struggling to pay the ever-increasing tuition fees, and while it may sound absurd hearing about a college student who doesn’t own a smartphone, they are there and their numbers are not less. Not all of us were born with the privilege to enjoy the things as common as phones and computers and that is a fact.
So while India can try to integrate online education in the mainstream mode of teaching, it will be at the expense of bright students with a severe lack of resources… at least in the present.