By: Swasti Tiwari (Intern, UPAY)
Abundant opportunities are subsisting in society today. Most of these are predominantly the prerogative of the privileged section. The under-resourced strata still lack them. The proliferation of the Corona Virus has worsened the situation. Closure of schools might protect the school kids from COVID-19, but their impact is going to be detrimental. Children are losing out on their daily interactions with their classmates and teachers, and it is going to be long before they go back to school.
Learning is certainly being disrupted, more for children whose parents are not literate, or who don’t have any access to internet-based learning. There is no certainty about when schools will resume; a prolonged gap is going to affect children’s interest and ability to get back to their learning schedule. Everyone is stuck at home, and the only people who can utilize this time, are the ones endowed with resources.
The uncertainty brought by the pandemic is nerve-racking. The parents falling in the underprivileged section face an unprecedented demand to support their ward’s learning at home in the times of COVID-19. Technology can help, but only if these children possess it. It is hard to believe that there are still millions of families in India for whom smartphones are not readily available. According to a National Sample Survey education report, only 20% of Indians above the age of 5 use the internet, and only 24 % of families have the facility. The data varies across states, and are even worse for rural areas.
The lockdown was a necessity and not choice and no one wanted it. Over a period of time, resourced people like us can mentally shift to the new system. However, at that moment, the poor will have more serious challenges to deal with. They will be looking for survival, shelter, job opportunities and again, it depends on the level of education.
How do people who are not economically well off access the resources and what happens to education? Education is about continuity and unfortunately, today it is not there, as a result of lockdown. In the rural sector, the schools must encourage conducting classes using a simple mobile. Even the government needs to improve connectivity. The reality is that a large part of India is not on social media, still, a very high percentage is connected on the mobile. According to a UNESCO estimate, almost 321 million Indian children were made to stay home. Ten weeks later, they remain away from classrooms and have been advised online or distance learning. But in a country like India with already dismal learning levels and low internet use, how many children can not let the lockdown set their learning back?
Pandemic and lockdown have impacted approximately 14 lakh migrant workers and others working in the unorganized sector, which accounts for 90% of India’s population. It has impacted the poor adversely across the globe. In such a situation, blatant emphasis on technology-driven education will exclude many children from continuing school education. Besides infrastructural problems, India is a highly diverse and multilingual country. Various dialects, various contexts and diverse lived experiences are what a classroom in India always brings together. One nation, one channel or one digital framework needs to be reconceptualised to ensure equity and quality in education. This is a high time that the under-resourced section of the society is introduced to the ‘new normal’ system of education- Virtual classrooms. The reality is right in front of us and we need to accept and act accordingly. We already know that the poor cannot afford these technologies, but that doesn’t imply that we do not try our bit.
Once the poor students are back to the classes, there has to be quick learning. In the lower classes, teachers have to link up with the parents to ensure that education is continued. In the case of non-literate parents, children should be encouraged into a system of peer learning. Also, this is the time when Non-profit organizations, NGOs, charitable trusts should come together to take the charge. We at UPAY are here to bring this thought into reality by providing free of cost education to under-resourced children through open school classrooms programs and various recreational and developmental activities aimed at broadening the skill sets of such children.