By Prateek Bhargava, Founder and CEO, Mindler
The internet has played a significant role in ensuring the diffusion of information in these unprecedented times. With regard to the requirements of social distancing, Education Institutions are adapting to the use of remote-learning technologies. This includes both online platforms for classroom learning as well as mediums that enable resource-sharing to ensure smooth learning. With these efforts in place, India’s higher educational institutions would certainly be better poised to adapt to the new normal.
However, the existing disparities pose a major challenge to remote learning. Uninterrupted electricity supply, good internet connectivity, availability of an electronic device, are some of the prerequisites for online teaching/learning. But are these uniformly available across the country? According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, in 2018, the total internet density in India stood at around 49 percent. 25 percent of these lived in the rural areas and 98 percent in the urban. Access to electricity is crucial for digital education, not only for powering devices, but also for connecting to the internet.
In certain cases, when the essential devices are unavailable with the students, it becomes all the more difficult for the teachers to adapt to the new techniques of learning which are completely different from the methods used in a conventional classroom. It is evident that the digital divide that exists in India in the context of teaching or learning is clearly due to access, devices and proficiency.
The online mode of learning provides for an intriguing mix of anonymity as well as exposure. It gives the students a sense of refuge without restricting their voice, this is a trade-off that is often take for granted. The campuses are meant to be sanctuaries of unrestricted expression, a nurturing ground for ideation where students can learn and mature, the digital platforms can certainly play a decisive role in this aspect. This will give the students an opportunity to navigate and explore across the terrain of learning and take the first steps towards building a sense of self-worth.
The only way this would be possible is if the basic requirements of accessibility, availability of proper devices and the proficiency in using them are satisfied. unless this is achieved, the covenant of online learning is a distant reality, and is bound to irrevocably strengthen the flaws in our society. The virtual classrooms in such a situation would abate the presence of an equalising medium and further intensify the existing prejudices. Menacing as it may appear, this cannot be overlooked.
The online teaching culture is the new normal, and is likely to be this way for the foreseeable future. The evolved digital teaching methodology has evolved to be an integral component of higher education in India. However, incorporation of these dramatic changes requires well-balanced intervention, in order to avoid the digital divide, we are witnessing today, and if not monitored this will certainly have long term repercussions as far as the future of education is concerned.
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