Technology – The latest Barrier to access to Education for many
Author: Samiksha Gupta
Founder, Editor and Writer | Leagle Samiksha
Education has the power to enable a human being to achieve his full potential. Every State realises the importance of providing access to education, particularly to the children. Since 2002, every child from the age of six to 14 years has the fundamental right to obtain free and compulsory education, as guaranteed in the newly added Article 21 A enshrined in Part III of the Constitution of India.
Despite this, Census 2011 data reveals that one-fourth children of school-going age do not go to schools. A whopping 99 million children have dropped out of the school.
Out of the two biggest reasons hampering all children from accessing education, one is poverty. 33 million children between the ages of 5 and 18 are engaged in child labour due to their economic necessities. Resultantly, most of them drop out of schools without completing their education.
Another differentiator is gender-based discrimination. The literacy level among girls is far lower than boys in our country. Investment in educating girls is still not considered worthy. Hence, the difference between literacy rates of males (approximately 80%) and females (approximately 65%) is huge.
The Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Scheme was rolled out to encourage education among girls. The Mid-day Meal scheme was another lucrative initiative to bring more children into the schools. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan saw some success as well.
Latest Barrier – Technology:
The Corona times have brought unprecedented changes in the way essential human ecosystems operate. The entire country was locked up in the previous months. The day-to-day activities got disrupted and we were forced to look for modern and novel ways of functioning. Technology is the leg that most sectors, including government functions, stood upon to prevent them from coming crashing down.
Since the beginning of the unlocking, the education sector is yet to revert to normalcy. The teachers are delivering lectures through video conferencing or platforms like WhatsApp. It seems unlikely that we would go back to the traditional way of teaching anytime in the near future. In this regard, it becomes important to note that the new normal in the field of education is not very inclusive of diversity – economic, social and physical.
Infrastructural and Economic Hindrance:
Conducting classes on an online platform presuppose the availability of appropriate infrastructure to support this method of teaching. Such technology may involve smartphones, tablets, laptop and desktop computers, etc. Particularly during the pandemic, many people have lost their sources of livelihood and are facing serious financial crunches. Thus, even if they somehow have mobile phones, they can’t afford the internet service.
The government has also initiated broadcasting educative programs and syllabus lectures on television. It has also provided Free-Dish facility. The concerning part, however, is that students do not have TV sets at their homes or within their neighbourhood to avail the Free-Dish and watch these programs. In a country where around 25% of people still live below the poverty line, this is an unworldly and romantic assumption to make.
Accessibility and Usability Hindrance:
There are still rural areas in India that are so under-developed that even electricity does not reach there. Further, network and connectivity are a big problem in rough terrains. Also, what about the tribal children and the children living in remote hills? How are they supposed to access the technology to continue their education?
More importantly, it is difficult to presume that all the teachers in these areas are tech-savvy. It is a common experience that many of the educated elder people too, even in urban and metro areas, struggle with basic functions on their smartphones. With such prevalent levels of technological illiteracy among the people, conducting online lectures over video calls or recording themselves while teaching is rocket science to them.
Children with Disabilities:
Obtaining education is more difficult for a child with disability than any other child even in a traditional set-up as most of the educational buildings, just like other public places, are not disability-friendly in our country. In recent times, the access to education of such children is further restricted because of the platforms being used for delivering the information. Particularly, children with visibility impairments, hearing impairments, mental growth impairments are the worst affected by this move.
Every child deserves to be educated. It is commendable that the government, the teachers, parents and other stakeholders are all coming together to ensure that learning continues in some way or the other. However, the novel education system is not as effective as the government thinks it is.
It must not be forgotten that these innovative methods of imparting education have created a wide gap between children on the basis of their economic capability, their geographical locations and their physical abilities. Technology has emerged as the newest differentiator among children. Sadly, this has added on to the existing burden of hindrances in access to education.
When we go back to normal life, it must be remembered that the harm caused to many children due to the discontinuity of their education needs to be undone.
 Statistics of Children in India, Child Rights and You, https://www.cry.org/statistics-on-children
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Samrat Sharma, Around 22% Indians live below poverty line; Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand fare worst, Financial Express (Sep 21, 2019 6:15 PM) https://www.financialexpress.com/economy/around-22-indians-live-below-poverty-line-chattisgarh-jharkhand-fare-worst/1713365/