Executive Vice President of AISECT Group, Siddharth Chaturvedi is the Chairman of the CII Bhopal chapter. Siddharth is also a part of the Governing Body and Board of Management of the Dr. C. V. Raman University in Chhattisgarh as well as the Rabindranath Tagore University in Madhya Pradesh. In an interaction with Higher Education Digest, Siddharth talks about the impact of COVID on future jobs, importance of upskilling, challenges for the Indian education system, and many more.
According to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, “True education must correspond to the surrounding circumstances, or it is not a healthy growth.” These words reflect the ceaseless need for educational institutions to keep evolving and comprehending the imperative demand of students by providing them with necessary means. The transition from chalkboard teaching to prompt, flexible online teaching requires appropriate technology-enabled learning. Digital education has often been considered a viable solution for Rural India to address the existing gaps in imparting education. It is believed that digital education can curb the issues related to quality education delivery, the inadequacy of teachers in rural schools, high rate of drop-outs, insufficiency of innovative teaching-learning methods and lack of standard learning material.
Even the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 focuses on digital learning as a substitute to the traditional classroom model for interaction between teachers and students. While there are numerous benefits of digital education, the barriers are still manifold to make education a complete online phenomenon in rural areas. The present Covid-19 crisis has had a major impact on the digital divide in the country, particularly from the perspective of education with digital access. It has also brought into sharp focus the challenges that exist for digital representation of education in the Tier III and rural areas of the country.
Following are some of the challenges:
- Digital Illiteracy and No Infrastructural Support: A significant proportion of the rural population continues to fall short of the required internet bandwidth and knowledge to recognize devices and digital terminologies. Another major issue involves the absence of supporting infrastructural facilities such as a stable flow of electricity and unavailability of high-speed internet.
- Access to proper devices and cost of data for rising use of content consumption: While talking about digital learning, it important to observe the accessibility of accurate devices for each student to avail digital content. In rural areas, only a nominal section of people have the privilege of accessing laptops and computers. Even students with access to desktops and laptops cannot avail the internet and the costs incurred in the procedure. Apart from that, the phone screens available to them are not favourable enough for long learning hours. The data packages and their prices also tend to restrain both teachers and students from going ahead with live classes. Though, subsidizing learning data plans by telecom companies can be an attempt to bridge this existing gap.
- Inadequate Skills: The inadequacy of skills among the teachers of the rural areas to operate digital platforms is another key factor affecting the advancement of digital education. As the teachers lack the necessary training to use digital platforms, they are averse to adopt these educational methods.
- Language Barrier: Almost 85% of the population living in India does not speak English. The lack of access to standardized content in Hindi and other regional languages causes a slow rate of further online course adoption. Standardized digital content covering every major curriculum from K-12 to higher education level seems far-fetched. Curation of any quality content from open sources will amplify the expenses and will require the Government’s synchronized effort. The syllabus also needs to be re-contextualized from a blended learning approach.
- Gender Inequalities: The penetration of online learning amongst the female population in the rural parts of India is even more taxing. Just like most domains, the availability of internet and literacy in rural India is primarily available to men.
While the above challenges manifest the existing gaps for dispersal of digital education in rural India, there are several initiatives taken by the Government to encourage online learning under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). Other than that, eBasta is presenting a framework to make school books available in digital form as e-books to read and use on tablets and laptops. Further initiatives include SWAYAM Prabha, SWAYAM Spoken Tutorial, Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE), National Digital Library (NDL), Virtual Lab, E-Yantra, and MOOCs. Additionally, the Government’s Digital India initiative also covers a massive plan to link the rural parts with high-speed internet networks.
Though these schemes are supposed to be quite beneficial, there is a huge amount of work that remains to be done considering the size of the country’s population and the targeted areas. These tasks can only be accomplished when all stakeholders direct their efforts in conjunction. Here are a few ways in which stakeholders can contribute to overcoming the barriers of digital education in rural India:
- Ed-Tech companies should provide cheap 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 present situation will precede an analysis on topics such as penetration of digital learning in rural areas, economical learning platforms, redefining learning science from a blended mode of approach thus being more favourable for learners at large.
- State Governments can arrange online content delivery training for teachers.
- Innovative solutions can be initiated to create the process of online education more interactive and vigorous.
- The rural areas of the country can be better equipped with the essential infrastructure provided by the public-private initiatives.
- The successful gambits under the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of corporate bodies fostering digital education in schools of rural areas need to be further promoted.
- Schools in rural areas should be provided with digital learning kits, and substitute sources of energy such as solar power should be installed in these schools.
The digital education barriers in Rural India can be eliminated through the provision of affordable and accessible e-learning modes. Content Standardization, Facilitating all the vital amenities and services in government schools through PPP (public-private partnership) model, up-skilling the teachers by providing them with customized teacher-training programmes on online education, blended learning in schools as well as the advancement of initiatives in digital learning space by NGOs & CSR wings of organizations need to be considered to propel digital education in rural India. Other than that, all stakeholders should come together and provide an ingenious pedagogy, accessible educational devices, proper infrastructure and a quality ecosystem for the expansion of digital learning in rural India.