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The Financial Express

Growing digital divide in education  

| Updated: July 04, 2020 22:34:37


Growing digital divide in education   

The spread of Covid-19 has seriously disrupted the county's academic life. Millions of students in schools, colleges and universities have been suffering as there is a disruption in their regular studies. To overcome the crisis, some educational institutions have adopted online learning and examination.  Experts and many others are also suggesting a widening of the opportunity of distance learning on online platforms.

No doubt that online academic activity is the order of the day now. Nevertheless, a large section of students in this country is yet to have necessary access to online platform.  Even most of the educational institutions don't have adequate infrastructure to provide necessary supports for online teaching and examinations.  Teachers and staff are not trained at all and they also don't have required logistics to connect students online.

What is disappointing is that some policymakers and experts are indifferent to the ground reality. Instead of understanding the limitations of and barriers to online learning, they are vigorously pushing for online solution keeping the well-off students and highly equipped educational institutions in mind. They are also influencing policy accordingly, leaving a large section of students, teachers and guardian behind during the pandemic. This kind of attempt to adopt online education during the pandemic will not only widen the digital divide in the country, but also fuel the socio-economic disparity in the long run.

Like the vulnerability of the country's health infrastructure and system, the pandemic has also exposed the inadequate and distorted digitalisation in the country. The much publicised success of digitalisation and online solutions in different areas has now been put to test. Despite remarkable progress in some areas like mobile financial services (MFS), the country has a long-way to go to make the digitalisation comprehensive and accessible to all. Policymakers, however, so far find it comfortable and pay little attention to the digital divide. It appears that the trend is still prevailing even after the pandemic exposed the shortcomings. That's why there is still no adequate move to address the problems faced by thousands of primary, secondary and higher secondary schools in villages and semi-urban areas. Poor internet access and lack of necessary devices have already turned them marginalised in the era of digital advancement.  There is still no visible guideline on how to bring the students of these educational institutions under an online umbrella to provide lessons and take tests. Though it is a time-consuming process, a proper planning is necessary to make it a success. The budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 (FY21), passed in parliament on Tuesday, doesn't provide any concrete guideline and allocation for the purpose.

Those who are using the online platform for distance learning and testing are relying on personal devices and household internet connections. This shows that the online solution to continue the regular education during Covid-19 is market-oriented. Some policymakers and experts are also promoting a market-based solution ignoring the inclusiveness of education. As the spread of deadly disease has affected students across the country, it is the state's responsibility to provide equal access to online platform. A market-oriented approach will be discriminatory and widen the digital divide in education.

 

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