Bridge the digital gap: Devise a comprehensive digital strategy for education

This shows there is still a lot of work that needs doing before the government can claim meaningful progress in digital education.

The Centre and the states must be lauded for moving quickly on digital/delivered-via-broadcast education in the face of the pandemic making classes-as-usual impossible. However, the latest ASER findings and reports by several NGOs show that there is still a wide gap between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’. ASER 2020 highlighted that access to smartphones has almost doubled since its 2018 survey—11% respondent households purchased a new phone to support children’s education—but also found that only a little over a fifth of the households surveyed could access video/recorded lectures, and just a tenth could access online classes. Another report published by Right To Education Forum shows points that the digital divide was wider for girls; only 26% of girls could access mobile phones as against 37% boys. Even access to TV did not translate into access to broadcast-mediated learning. In Assam, despite a TV penetration of 46%, only 2% households accessed educational content.

A new report released by Sampark shows that, besides the gap in the delivery of education, teachers feel that mode of learning is also inadequate. Half of the teachers surveyed marked ‘social platform’ to connect with other teachers and exchange ideas as a vital feature for learning apps, and 46% responded that a ‘question bank’ was a key feature to prepare tests/worksheets. While two-thirds still favoured classroom teaching, nearly a third wanted learning apps to have a performance dashboard for students.

This shows there is still a lot of work that needs doing before the government can claim meaningful progress in digital education. India needs a comprehensive digital strategy, not mere quick-fixes like sending notes over WhatsApp.

The government—the states and the Centre—needs to draft a plan to ensure that each student gets access to a tablet or a laptop; subsequently, it will also need to train teachers and students in using online resources and infrastructure. Post-pandemic, the online mode of delivery can provide quality education to those residing in remote areas.

If the government’s plan is to work, then online learning must be made more interactive. E-books have been available for free on NCERTs website for over a decade, but now it needs to invest in interactive tools like question banks and puzzles/games that serve as learning/evaluation aids. Studies indicate that ‘gamification’ leads to better learning outcomes. But rather than spending on de novo creation of material-this will also take years-it needs to engage with start-ups and firms that have perfected this model. The likes of Khan Academy and Byju’s are already providing interactive services. Not only will this help intensify digitalisation efforts but also will bridge the learning gap. The government has been collaborating with start-ups in the field of health and governance, so why not education.

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