According to the report of UNESCO, the current pandemic has affected the 290 million students in 22 countries. Where, only in India, the learning of about 32 crore students is affected due to this pandemic.
The online education system during such a situation is no doubt a lifesaver for the students as well as educators. The availability of educational platforms providing virtual classroom services and their features and functionality is excellent. It is more efficient than our traditional classroom system with blackboard or whiteboard. These services encourage the maximum utilization of the mind (https://bit.ly/2HWCK5J). But, despite the availability of such virtual classroom, we cannot operate the classroom efficiently. This is because the actual lags don’t exist in availability but affordability and accessibility to these services.
The problem of affordability to these services is not much serious in comparison to its accessibility. Many e-learning platforms are providing services for free of cost to some extent and provide a heavy discount for further extended services. Despite these things, if the educational institutes will substitute some of its fees or charges in favour of providing these services, this will not create any additional burden to the students.
The problem of accessibility to these services is much wider than its affordability. It also includes the affordability of the means to access these services. Following four things are a prerequisite for the efficient operation of the online virtual classroom.
- The hardware device used to deliver and attend classroom lectures.
- Network connectivity and internet affordability of the participants.
- Technological knowledge of the participants.
- The social environment around the participants.
The first necessity to participate in a virtual classroom is you must have a Smartphone or laptop with minimum requirements. Here we see two types of problem the functionality and durability of these devices. Since attending and delivering video lectures put heavy pressure on various components of these devices, so it creates lots of problem to old smartphones or laptops. The minimum functionality problems also exist in terms of screen size, camera quality, RAM, and ROM etc. The main reasons to raise these issues are the reports of various browsing companies, apps providers and tech researchers clearly state that most of the Indians are using mid-range smartphones with low features and functionality. If we do an inter-student comparison between different age groups and family income groups then the small age group students and low family income group student will suffer worst in terms of accessibility to these e-learning services.
The second necessity to participate is network connectivity and internet affordability of the participants. The good network connectivity will be a serious problem to the students living in remote areas of the country as these areas are experiencing bad network connectivity due to telecom operators’ ignorance and bad weather and geographical conditions. The matter of internet affordability is also a problem but can be reduced by the various strategies like internet data pack sharing and household and education expenditure substitution. There is also a big problem of electricity connectivity for the rural and remote area of the country that may create an obstacle to access these services.
The third necessity is technical knowledge, that is a big problem for the small age group students their parents as well as old age group teachers who are not familiar with such modern innovations. There is a huge digitally divided population in India who are not familiar with even basic technical services. This will not only hinder the success of e-learning platforms but also create heavy psychological stress to these participants. We may agree with the fact that with time this problem can be tackled, but will affect the current and near-future educational attainment of the country.
The fourth necessity is the social environment within the family as well as beyond family. As per family structure, demographic and income characteristics of the Indian households, maintaining a sound social environment for the students is also a big problem for the parents, students and teachers. Providing privilege to student or teacher can create a psychological strain to the rest family members as most of the population belonging from the lower and medium-income group has house with not much adequate space, while it is also a challenge for the students and teachers to concentrate on the teaching-learning process with such an environment.
What Government should do?
In my opinion, the parents must arrange all the prerequisites by own and should not wait for any assistance from the government. Since, as per our governance and delivery system if one will wait for it then it will be the loss of their children. The current trends of our education system and behaviour of parents towards the schooling of their children support the fact that now people are more aware in providing quality education to their children and it can be seen that there is the major shifting of the students from government schools to private schools.
But this doesn’t mean that government should not arrange these facilities to the students, teachers and schools. Education is social capital and an educated human serves not only their family but also the society as well as the country. For some of the infrastructural services, we are systematically dependent on the government.
I am here with some suggestions to the government that is necessary to push the e-learning process on the smooth track of operation and progress.
- The government should provide adequate subsidy in purchasing mid-range smartphones or should liberalize manufacturing as well as the import of these smartphones for a certain time frame.
- The government should issue regulations for the public as well as private schools, colleges and universities in fee structuring for this semester and next year and further if required.
- The government should establish sound network and electricity connectivity across the country especially in remote areas.
- The government should subsidise internet packs for students or reduce the taxation on these services for a certain time frame.
- The government should provide adequate infrastructure, equipment and guidelines to its government schools so that students from government schools could access online education efficiently.
- The government should take immediate initiative to educate the digitally divided population through various possible ways like TV channels, radio and mobile phones.
I have tried to cover the grass root level problems and solutions for this issue. There are various things that are not in this article but exist. I will be waiting for such issues and solutions in the comment box. Please must share your opinion on it.
Author: Alok Aditya Department of Economic Studies and Policy Central University of South Bihar