How to overcome digital divide in India’s post-Covid classrooms

In India, the pandemic has affected around 290 million children, with around 6 million being out of school.

The government has done well to advise states and Union Territories to conduct a door-to-door survey to ensure that Covid-19 doesn’t cause a spurt in school drop-out and out-of-school rates. This survey will identify children who risk remaining out of school, especially children of migrants, and the states can then prepare action-plans for their enrollment. The pandemic has put up many barriers to education in the country—from the suspension of classrooms to wide gaps in digital access/literacy. Even the delivery of entitlements such as mid-day meals has suffered in many states.

In India, the pandemic has affected around 290 million children, with around 6 million being out of school. Given the pandemic-caused disruptions, if proper steps are not taken these numbers will continue to rise. The barriers to digitally-delivered education are likely to be a significant factor driving this rise in numbers, given the digital have-nots will lag the haves significantly. While some states have tried to tide over these barriers by deploying classes-on-wheels, edu-broadcast through TV and radio, the need is to have a pan-Indian strategy. A first step can be an enumeration of those that are most vulnerable, and making sure that there are efforts to bridge the existing gap in learning levels between them and the digital-haves; this, of course, is complicated by the fact that even within a class of students from a relatively similar economic background, there could be sharp learning level differences. Relaxing detention norms is something that the government is mulling over, but the earlier no-detention policy had a strong correlation with high later-stage drop-out rates. It will perhaps be better to focus on infrastructure, pedagogical and nutrition support.

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