India File

Digital divide will hurt girls

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on May 05, 2020

More girls will be taken out of school as parents will not be interested in continuing their education, owing to the economic burden   -  THE HINDU

Some government schools in Maharashtra are sending online activities to children through WhatsApp and other social media platforms as schools are closed due to the lockdown following Covid-19 spread. However, farmers’ kids in Osmanabad are busy assisting their parents in the fields and selling farm produce door to door.

They are missing out on the online teaching exercise because of the work burden they share with their parents and the lack of internet access. Even as private schools in the State have managed to implement “study from home”, government schools are struggling to do the same.

The Active Teachers’ Forum (ATF) — comprising teachers, researchers, and activists in Maharashtra — recently conducted a survey in government schools in rural and urban areas of the State for a study titled ‘Digital Access’.

The study revealed that only 27 per cent parents of the students surveyed in 1,186 schools had smartphones. Out of the total 1.67 lakh students, only 11.61 per cent had laptops or desktops at home. In urban areas, only 14 per cent of parents had smartphones, compared to 20 per cent in rural areas.

“The State government must seriously think about the future of online education, if that is the future, post-Covid-19 crisis. Our survey has come out with definite ground realities, which may help to carve out further directions in this regard. For example, the penetration of television sets is much more compared to mobile handsets with internet. The government can think of using TV and radio as the mode of education,” said Bhau Chaskar, a teacher in a government school at Akole (Ahmednagar) and one of the members of ATF.

He felt the government could consider a dedicated TV channel for school education. “The government must be open-minded to accept suggestions from teachers and experts on how to use a digital medium for education,” Chaskar added, fearing that post-Covid, more girls will be taken out of school as parents will not be interested in continuing their education, owing to the economic burden.

Sambhaji Patil, a teacher in Sangli, believes that online education in government schools must continue but the government will have to play a proactive role in facilitating e-learning. “The government has various schemes, including the mid-day-meal scheme, to attract students to schools. On similar lines, the government can assist parents to get an internet pack. Now, smartphones have almost reached all strata of society, but internet connection remains out of reach because of the regular expense,” said Patil.

Rajashree Gaikwad, a housewife and a parent in Mhaisal (Sangli), pointed out that government schools remain the only source of education for the majority of students in poor and middle-class families. “My experience with government school is very good. The government must try to ensure that students here don’t fall behind in the online education race,” she said, adding that education using gadgets would become the norm in private schools post Covid-19 .

Balasaheb Shete, a former education officer in Sangli district, said the State government and teachers in government-run schools are taking every possible effort to continue education despite lockdown. “If digital education is the future, all children must get the benefit. There are many innovative school teachers and experts in government schools who are trying their best to take online learning to all students,” he said.

But the digital divide in the State is startling and access to online education could further widen the gap. The most affected would be girls. Notwithstanding the government’s ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ campaign, the ground reality remains grim for girls who want to educate themselves. Household work, safety, distance from home, and early marriage are some of the reasons that girls in India don’t attend schools even though they want to study, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

Most of the families whose children go to government schools have one smartphone with internet and, according to teachers, parents would prefer to continue boys’ online education instead of that of girls.

Published on May 05, 2020

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