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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Educational Discrimination Across the Student Fraternity in the Pandemic

 

Nelson Mandela once said that

“Our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset as a nation.”

The traditional teaching method is an amalgamation of face-to-face interaction and community learning coupled with vivid experiences that enrich the children and help them grow. Sadly, the ongoing pandemic has taken a toll on the education system. Children are being forced to stay away from school. Online learning has come to their rescue in this situation. Unfortunately, it is accompanied by its own set of limitations. Another side of the story is even more saddening. Online classes have become a factor for the increasing gulf of disparity amongst children from various backgrounds.


Increasing Disparity Between Private And Government Schools

There has already been a huge educational divide between private and government schools in India. Still, with the advent of the pandemic and e-learning being the new normal, this rift has been further exacerbated. According to UNICEF, 320 million learners in India have been starkly affected by this rapid shift in the mode of education from physical to digital learning. The major obstacles hindering the students from accessing online education include electricity issues, non-availability of mobile phones or laptops, lack of technical knowledge among the teachers, difficulty accessing internet infrastructure, and many more.


A study conducted by Oxfam India, a nonprofit organization, stated that almost 80% of parents with their child going to government schools have complained of quality education not being delivered during the COVID-19 lockdown. This figure went to 59% when the same question was asked from parents of children attending private schools. The major reason behind this disparity is the non-uniformity in the accessibility of internet infrastructure and cellular devices. A study conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds shows that only 24% of the households in India have access to the internet, and this figure further drops in rural areas. A study by National Sample Survey shows that only 8% of households have both an internet connection and a device. Even if a student has a smartphone, poor internet facilities and expensive data packages add to the woes of the students. Other than digitization issues, lack of technical knowledge among teachers is another reason for this increasing disparity. Most teachers prefer sending videos and materials on WhatsApp, making it a one-way mode of learning where students cannot ask their queries.


A study showed that 80% of teachers in government schools face difficulty in delivering lessons through online means, and 90% of teachers of government schools have complained of the inability to assess the students in online classes. One major reason is that there are no proper means to scrutinize children by conducting examinations in the digital mode of education. Due to this, they are unable to work upon slow learners or on the students who are not able to grasp concepts through online classes. It can prove to be a setback for the education sector in India if learning gaps between students of private and government schools continue to widen at this pace.


In spite of this disparity and digital divide between private and government schools, a study conducted has shown that the number of enrollments in private schools is less than enrollment in public schools. It also implies that due to the financial constraints of middle-class families, especially during this pandemic and regular hike in fees in private institutes, more parents are willing to enrol their children in public schools.


Gender Disparity In Accessing Online Education

With increasing unemployment and financial instability in families, girls are the first ones to be hit hard by its repercussions. As seen in the survey conducted on 733 students of a government school in Bihar, only 28% of the girls have a smartphone, whereas the figure goes up to 36% for boys. Other than this, gender gaps in accessibility for internet services also vary to a great extent. As per a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India, only 33% of women have access to the internet compared to 67% of men. This figure reaches 72% of men and 28% of women in rural India, where gender disparity is more prominent. Due to these reasons, the only option left for girls to attain education in online mode is watching lessons aired on television. But this is also affected by the fact that girls spend more time doing household chores than boys, which often overlaps with live telecast lessons affecting their studies. If this continues in online education, then the already existing wide gender gap in terms of employment will continue to widen, posing an obstacle in the course of the development of the nation.


Disadvantages Of Children Being Away From Schools

While this phase has exposed the entire mankind to mental and physical issues, children remain no exception. Education is always incomplete without the element of practical and technical knowledge. Online classes have closed all rooms for the holistic development of children and will gradually lead to fallacies in their skills. Students are missing all the enriching opportunities which physical classes have got to present. Another issue that comes hand in hand with online classes is the stark increase in the physical and mental health of children. Long hours with eyes glued to screens have led to poorer health in children. Headaches, backache, eyesight degradation, fatigue, insomnia, and strain have been experienced by children who are taking online classes. This is the age when a child imbibes and learns in the company of their friends and teachers. Sadly children remain unexposed to the experience.


Another major issue with online classes is that children with disabilities find it difficult to grasp concepts, and their learning curve becomes steeper. This is just another example of the digital divide our country is facing. It is the need of the hour that we make our systems inclusive of their needs. Another budding problem is the distraction children face during online classes. A survey revealed that nearly half of the children are swayed by games, music, and other distracting stuff offered on the device while attending classes. This eventually leads to poor academic performance and long-run deterioration. Government schools have got a wide range of schemes to offer for the children. But in the present context, these schemes remain out of the reach of children. Schemes such as mid-day meals that attracted rural students to schools have suffered in the pandemic.


The Way Ahead

Right to Education Act, 2009 provides a roadmap to the government for the free and compulsory education of children. It should be further made inclusive of the online mode, which has now become a necessity. A survey by the NCERT suggested certain measures which can be taken to reduce the widening educational gulf between all sections of children. It brings to the table multiple ideas like setting up community banks where people can deposit their old devices for underprivileged kids. Another innovative proposal is the use of CSR for coping with the digital divide faced by children. Corporate companies should come forward and provide facilities for children who are in desperate need of the same.


Schools should provide counselling facilities for their students to help them cope with mental stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic and online classes. They should also take steps to make the learning process more engaging and interesting for students. Efforts should be made to reduce the class size during online classes to make the process more interactive. The Ministry of Education has come up with certain time durations for various age groups. Schools must try to abide by these so that the screen timing of children can be reduced. Though the government has come up with schemes like BHARAT NET, which provides internet access to educational institutes, it's high time these schemes should start including students in its ambit. Regular checks and balances on the ground reality working of multiple schemes and e-learning initiatives by the government should be made.


Conclusion

Even after so many years of independence, our country is still battling a flawed educational system, and our younger generation is facing the repercussions of the same. We need to strengthen all the pillars of our educational infrastructure so that our educational machinery may survive and subsist during the pandemic and in the future too. Children are already missing their rights and opportunities, which are the building block of their future. It should be our priority as a nation to fill up this digital and educational divide and prevent any discrimination amongst children. The building rocks of our prosperous future deserve more of our attention and efforts.



 

* 1st Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow

** 1st Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow

 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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