Indian Schools Facing Harsh Digital Divide: UNESCO, Education Ministry’s Report 

New Delhi, 8 October 2021 – Recently-released reports by UNESCO and the Education Ministry of India show that schools are facing a steep digital divide when it comes to providing online classes to students. 

As per the ‘UNESCO 2021 State of the Education Report for India’, the availability of digital devices (smart phones, laptops, desktops etc.) in schools stands at 22% across the nation, with rural areas having 18% and urban areas having 43% access. At the same time, internet availability stands at 19% all over India, with rural areas having 14% and urban areas having 42% access. “The use of technology in education for the purpose of teaching and learning has emerged as important, but this has also exposed a range of issues – lack of devices and Internet bandwidth for a significant proportion of students, lack of preparedness of teachers in the use of technology, and lack of resources in Indian languages.”, the report says. 

Moreover, another report from the Education Ministry, titled ‘Initiatives by the School Education Sector in 2020-21’, states that between 40% to 70% of students do not have access to digital devices in the seven large states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Commenting on the grim reality of the digital divide, the Ministry stated, “The ‘new normal’ (online education) may also have a huge impact on the learning levels for almost all children; learning loss may be a reality for many children.” 

Note: It must be noted that the Education Ministry’s report has been prepared on the basis of data shared by 22 out of 28 states, and 7 out of 8 UT’s (Union Territories). Important states like Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal are not a part of the report. 

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COVID-19 and the Digital Divide in India

Last year, UNICEF’s report, ‘How COVID-19 Deepens the Digital Education Divide in India’, stated that “Shutting schools to maintain social distancing amidst the COVID-19 crisis was the most logical solution to avoid community transmission. However, this prolonged closure has a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable students … while students from families with better means of living can easily bridge the transition to remote learning, students from underprivileged backgrounds are likely to succumb to inefficiency and a lack of adaptation, either because of the inaccessibility of the technology or the low education of their parents to guide them through tech-savvy applications.

Our Viewpoint – While the current pandemic is new to all of us, the digital divide has been with us for quite some time now. However, its ill effects are now visible for all to see. The pandemic has brought it to the foreground and showed that education is a privilege only a few can afford.  

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The Digital Divide – State-Wise Concerns

  • Assam reported 3,10,6255 students with no digital access.
  • Andhra Pradesh found that 2,01,568 students have no cell phone access.
  • Bihar reported that a whopping 1.43 crore children have no access to digital devices.
  • Gujarat found 40% of its students without access to smartphones and the internet.
  • Jharkhand’s 32.52 lakh students do not have digital access.
  • Madhya Pradesh observed that 70% of students (out of a total of 98 lakh) do not have smartphones.
  • Uttarakhand found that 2.14 lakh students do not have access to digital devices for online learning. 
  • The assistance provided by various states in this regard also shows a huge imbalance. For eg – The Tamil Nadu Government claims to have distributed 5.15 lakh laptops among students, as against 42 mobile phones by the Bihar government.

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