Digital Education Barriers In Rural India
The digitalization of education in the semi-urban and rural regions of India remains a challenging feat to achieve and we still have a long way to go.
Digital Education has been envisaged as a panacea to tackle all the existing issues that come in the way of imparting education in Rural India. There has been a shared belief that access to digital education can overcome the problems of shortage of teachers in rural schools, access to quality education, lack of innovative methods and techniques in teaching-learning process, high drop-out rate and paucity of quality learning material. The National Education Policy 2019 also focused on online learning as an alternative to regular classroom interaction between teachers and students. While digital education seems to be a possible solution for effective dissemination of education and training in rural India, the current COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the stark digital divide that still exists in our country, especially from the point of view of access to digitally-enabled education. This highlights that the digitalization of education in the semi-urban and rural regions of India remains a challenging feat to achieve and we still have a long way to go.
Some of the major challenges that can be enlisted in this context are:
Digital Literacy and Infrastructural Support: Digital literacy and infrastructure are prominent hurdles that come in the way of enabling online education in the rural regions of India. Majority of the rural population still does not have the required internet bandwidth or even the knowledge to understand digital terminologies and devices. Lack of other supporting infrastructure such as a steady flow of electricity also pose major problems.
Access to the right device and cost of Data for increased usage of Content Consumption: While we look at the domain of digital learning, it is imperative to consider the availability of the right devices to every student for accessing digital content. Not a lot of people in rural India have access to laptops or computers and phone screens are not conducive to long learning hours. Even if there is access to desktops or laptops, there arises another issue of internet access and the costs that are incurred in the process. Data packs and their costs can be a big deterrent both for teachers as well as learners, especially for live classes. As an attempt to bridge this gap, subsidized learning data plans can be made available by telecom companies.
Lack of Skills: Lack of skills among teachers in rural areas to use digital platforms can be seen as another notable factor that affects the spread of digital education. Since the teachers themselves are not trained to use digital platforms, it becomes a cause of resistance in the adoption of these methods of education.
Language Concerns: About 85% of the Indian population does not speak English. Lack of availability of quality content in Hindi and regional languages also causes a slow rate of adoption of these online courses.
Absence of standardized e-learning content in multiple languages: We are still facing an issue over the availability of standardized content in multiple languages and we don’t yet have good quality e-learning content covering all the major curriculum at K-12 and higher education level. Curation of the standard content from open sources is an expensive exercise and will require a coordinated effort from the government. The curriculum will need to be revisited from the blended mode of delivery approach.
Gender Inequalities: Penetration of digital education among the female population in rural India is even more challenging. Like most other domains, access to internet and literacy in rural India is primarily available to men. In such a scenario, it becomes even more challenging to enable women to access these resources.
While these challenges still reflect the ground reality of dissemination of digital education in rural India, various initiatives have been taken by the Government to promote digital learning under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). eBasta is another initiative that offers a framework to make school books accessible in digital form as e-books to be read and used on tablets and laptops. Other such initiatives include SWAYAM, SWAYAM Prabha, National Digital Library (NDL), Spoken Tutorial, Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE), Virtual Lab, E-Yantra, MOOCs and the like. Along with this, the present Government’s Digital India initiative includes a massive plan to connect rural areas with high-speed internet networks.
Even though these schemes prove to be immensely beneficial, considering the size of the population along with the area that needs to be targeted, there still remains a lot of work to do and can only be carried out when all the stakeholders come together and direct their efforts jointly.
Some of the ways in which various stakeholders can play a part in overcoming the barriers to digital education in rural India can be:
Ed-Tech companies can come up with low-cost multi-lingual platforms that could work on low bandwidth and provide access to quality content. To promote this, the Government can offer tax benefits to these companies.
The current situation will pave a greater way for research around topics such as low-cost Learning platforms, penetration of digital learning in rural areas, revisiting learning science from blended mode approach and this would be more beneficial for learners at large.
Digital content delivery training cycles for teachers can be organized periodically by the state governments.
Innovations can be brought about to make the process of digital education more interactive and robust.
With public-private initiatives, rural areas could be equipped with the required infrastructure.
The successful initiatives under the CSR of corporates promoting digital education in rural schools should be promoted further.
Rural schools can be provided with digital learning kits and alternative sources of energy like solar power can be installed in schools.
Standardization of content, provision of all essential amenities in government schools through PPP model, up-skilling of teachers through customized teacher training programmes on digital education, blended learning in schools and scaling up of good initiatives in digital learning space by NGOs & CSR wings of organizations should be considered to give thrust to digital education in rural India. All stakeholders need to come together to provide innovative pedagogy, user-friendly educational devices, infrastructure and an enabling environment for the spread of digital learning in rural India.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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