digital divide

Digital Divide: A Deterrent In Online Education

Unanticipated lockdown across the country to curtail the COVID19 has affected all walks of life. The lockdown happening for the first time is yielding varying experiences to the citizen of the country. Along with different sectors, the higher education sector has also felt the dent due to the discontinuance of the teaching-learning processes.

Consequential to disruption, the higher education institutions (HEIs) are taking initiatives to fill up this void by using the available digital platforms for online teaching or sharing the electronic content of the course material to the students through email, etc.

The efforts to utilize the leisure time available with students by flooding them with the learning resources are appreciable. Reading the news reports, the HEIs seem to be rushing for proclaiming the restoration of teaching-learning and evaluation processes using digital platforms in this unprecedented lockdown.

These efforts to avoid prospective rescheduling of the academic activities due to the unavoidable disruption need to be embedded with a caveat of ensuring digital connectivity with a whole lot of target students and also the learnability quotient.

It is quite likely that a section of students having the computer and internet appreciates this mode of covering the prescribed syllabus. But the realities regarding the digital divide in the country should not be overlooked.

Available statistics show that despite India being the second largest user of the internet with access to around 700 million still reels under the digital divide as these numbers amount to be little more than half of the total population in the country.

Similarly, the availability of a computer, laptop, smartphone, etc. is the luxury that all are unable to afford in the country. Thus, the reality of quite a large fraction being devoid of digital connect should be borne in mind to assess the online teaching and evaluation.

Irrespective of the institution, its students belonging to diverse socio-economic backgrounds will essentially have a few among them who do not have digital connect while being at their home for not carrying it along at the time of leaving the institution campus and its unavailability at their home.

Therefore, the honest assessment of having the necessary facilities to get digitally connected effectively is necessary before pushing students to digital learning. Further, as per human psychology, quite often students feel it stigmatic to inform about the lack of facilities at their homes and eventually feel deprived of in such substitution of on-campus teaching by off-campus teaching.

In certain situations, even after sharing of limitations by the small number of such students without IT facilities, they get marginalized and the majoritarianism prevails.  The transmission of learning resources through online mode does not assure the reading by the students and is likely to result in knowledge gaps which are quite difficult to take care of.

The fair evaluation of such learning through online mode operating in an unstructured manner becomes much more difficult. There are always two schools of thought out of which one will advocate for the on-line teaching in this period of closure while others will be calling for completion of the curriculum after the resumption of the teaching-learning in the institution’s campus.

The institutional governance has to holistically consider different factors and decide responsibly based on the sanctity, access, quality and long term implications of any stop-gap arrangement.

Kudos to the governance of the country for having created a reasonable communication network and perseverance to connect every citizen. Also, the demography of the country is appropriate to capitalize on digital connectivity, but the present situation has a lot of limitations in completely virtualizing the routine activities of the education system.

HEIs should first capture the information about the available digital connectivity and then embark upon the use of any digital platform for teaching and evaluation processes in this period of temporary disruption.  Empowering the students with digital content should always aim at supplementing the learning process and not to substitute the on-campus learning activities.

The limitations of digital connectivity are not felt while students are on campus because of the facilitation done by the Institution through its’ IT facilities.

Let us hope that the academics understand the digital divide and continue to be fair in providing equal opportunity in education for all students and none feels deprived of the quality education delivery on account of insufficiency of IT facilities at the student end due to hugely varying socio-economic conditions.

In any eventuality, the ad-hoc arrangements for handling exigency should not seed any notion of someone being disadvantaged for want of IT facilities at their places, better will be to wait for the restoration of normal functioning in such situations.

The present discontinuance of teaching cues for those at the helm to endeavor for getting rid of the digital divide by provisioning the internet access and computer/laptop availability with every student in higher education.

There have not been many successful and ambitious schemes of digital empowerment by providing students with laptops/tablets in the past except in the state of Uttar Pradesh which had distributed free laptops to a certain set of students, however, such facilitation could have been the game-changer in eliminating the digital divide in due course of time.

Check out the Top Digital Platforms Of Remote Teaching And Learning

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