Online Teaching: A Stark Pedagogical Issue For Margins

The online teaching during the lockdown created a dichotomy between rich and poor and ultimately deprived students of the lower socio-economically sections.

Online Teaching: A Stark Pedagogical issue for Margins

  Deccan Herald

The unprecedented crisis of the Corona pandemic not only affected the health and economy but it also severely affected the education system of the country. The central government enforced nationwide lockdown on 24 March to contain the spread of coronavirus. The three months lockdown closed down all physical spaces of teaching such as schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions and online space of teaching emerged as an alternative using several digital platforms such as Google classroom, Zoom, YouTube etc. In reality, online teaching is a non-starter for students of economically and socially disadvantaged sections.

The Corona pandemic and the unprepared lockdown brought uncertainties to thousands of students in India and left schools, universities and other educational institutes in dire straits. The prolonged lockdown affected the routine academic and teaching activities, and large numbers of students are deprived of learning. The MHRD directed all schools, colleges, universities to adopt methods of online teaching-learning during the lockdown. However, the government failed to understand the mode, accessibility and affordability of online teaching. Even though the online education is being advocated as the future of the education system in India by the NDA government in the last six years. The scale of the spreading online education has enabled to popularise the implementation across the country but failed to achieve its goal.

During the lockdown, the sudden shift from the physical space of teaching-learning to virtual space exposed the faultlines and shortcomings of the education system in general and online teaching in particular. The significant shortcomings are the mode and accessibility in online teachings such as enormous digital gaps; inequitable access to the internet, smart TV, smartphones, and laptops; urban-rural gaps, the dearth of trained human resources and lack of necessary digital infrastructure. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Report (2014) on measuring Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) development indicated that the ratio of learner-computer is 1:89 across schools in India. NSSO report (2014) also indicated that only 27 per cent of households in India have some member access to the internet. “Strategy for New [email protected] reports by NITI Aayog, highlighted the quality and reliability of the internet as a significant bottleneck in digital education. It went on to point out that 55,000 villages in the country are without mobile network coverage. Another report by the World Bank (2016) on internet penetration in India shows that only 29 per cent Indian have access to the internet. Digital exclusion is higher in rural areas than urban areas; whereas 68.86 internet subscriber per 100 populations in urban areas and only 13.08 internet subscriber per 100 population in rural areas. It reflects that massive gap of accessibility to internet and less opportunity to access necessary digital skills.

It is not only the question of accessibility but also affordability among the students of weaker or marginal sections. The large section of students in rural areas do not have access to 3G or 4G networks to attend the online classes, and students have to climb trees and hills to access the internet. According to the NSS report, only 12.5 per cent of households of students in India have internet access to the home. There is an urban-rural divide 27 per cent have access in urban and only 5 per cent in rural areas. The internet speed and its fluctuations are also other issues in urban-rural areas.

It also found that the students from the lower economic or socially marginal sections lack access to devices such as smartphones and laptops. Even if the parents own smartphones, it is difficult to afford internet data at regular intervals. Further, several classes in a day can be a substantial cost for many students in the low-income group. The issue of affordability of learning devices deprives millions of students participating in online classes.

According to the Census 2011 data, 37.1 per cent of households in India have a single dwelling room, 39.4 per cent in rural and 32.1 per cent in urban areas. It clearly shows that during the lockdown, when all family members residing in a single room dwelling which creates huge inconvenience for students for the marginalised or deprived students of participating in the online class.

It also witnessed that online education has an iniquitous effect on female students. Given, the unequal burden of domestic work that women share at home, often the female student has to take up these additional domestic responsibilities. In such a situation, female students are unable to attend the online class when she is supposed to carry on household tasks.

During the lockdown, the online teaching created a dichotomy between rich and poor and deprived a large number of students of the socio-economically marginalised section of participating in online classes which gradually led them to fall in the trap of child labour.

In order to tackle such issues, the government needs long-term strategies to increase ethernet connectivity, subsidise internet data, and provide subsidised devices such as smartphone and laptop to students coming from rural as well as socially and economically marginalised sections. The government, with its inclusive policies, should bridge the gap between the rich and marginalised students, play a role to eradicate the existing inequalities in online education system, so that students from marginalised section can get free and inclusive education as per the constitutional rights.

Dr. Kalu Naik has received Ph.D from Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU and currently associate with ICAR-NIAP, New Delhi.