Where are we in terms of the urban-rural digital divide in India?

Why not start the blog directly with some numbers, right? According to a survey conducted by the Times of India in September 2021, 37% of poor students belonging to rural areas had dropped out of schools. The survey revealed that due to the prolonged COVID-19 situations and lockdowns, children decided to drop out of schools because they couldn’t even afford online education on devices. As many as 48% of children surveyed weren’t able to read anything after a few words. I think this forms a clear picture of the urban-rural education divide in India.

As the pandemic took over the globe, it was easy for well-equipped, urban and private schools to switch to an online mode of education. Even the students and their families had at least 1-2 smart devices at home, which ensured the continuity of education for their kids. Unfortunately, children living in marginalized areas and bastis (slums) do not have access to any smart device or the internet. So, online learning, though a very positive initiative for students in India, could not reach the rural sector, thereby resulting in the fallout of poor children from schools. Even if the households have smartphones, they are either used by adults or students don’t have the proper knowledge on how to use smartphones for education.

When it comes to parents, the survey revealed that parents had reported diminishing desires for education and learning, reduced abilities to read text and learn new things. The COVID-19 induced lockdowns had rendered children unable to learn outside of school premises and classes.

Children from rural areas are in such a disadvantaged position that during the survey, students from class 3 were not able to read texts from class 2 and thus, their academic progress had fallen back to class 1.

Now, the above facts paint a stark picture of the urban-rural digital and education divide in the country. However, how are we going to deal with this? There are multiple ways to overcome the abovementioned divide, let’s take a look:

  • Democratizing the use of technology and internet
  • Major revisions in the curriculum suitable for children in all areas over an extended transition period
  • Free circulation and aid of smart devices and internet for students and schools in rural areas by the government
  • Training by skilled individuals and growth stakeholders to students and educators from rural areas to adapt to change and technological advancements
  • Provide poor children with a budget for proper daily amenities and meals even in an online education environment
  • Ensure proper coaching and mental health support to students from marginalized backgrounds
  • Tie up government schools in rural areas with skilled institutes and centers to ensure they receive at par education, training and help
  • Let them enjoy co-curricular activities and social interactions for overall holistic development
  • Create a forum for children to discuss their pain points and issues with counsellors and educators everyday

Conclusion

To say a few last words, technology and training can easily bridge the urban-rural gap in India. It will take time, but if the government ensures equitable distribution to all areas, then no one can stop rural students from flying close to their dreams and transforming them into reality.

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