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The Pandemic is Disrupting a Generation’s Education. What is the Solution?

The last few months have been witnessing a flurry of activities by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD), NCERT, CBSE, and other state boards to look for alternatives to ensure the prolongation of education.

While this might not be a suitable time to discuss the utterly low expenditure on schooling and education in India, the dearth of momentousness towards the sector can be assessed from the fact that HRD was kept in Category C which is the lowest category for expenditure – i.e., the said department will have to restrict expenditure to within 15% of that accounted for Q1, 2020-21.

Amid this background, the education department and regulators moved towards developing a stop-gap arrangement in an online education mode. The teachers have been conducting classes through internet-based platforms, in the absence of which SMS and voice recordings are sent to the students. Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have launched high-quality ed-tech applications, including Diksha, e-Pathshala, etc.

However, the critical question is: Can internet-based education be considered an alternative for children studying in government schools? Can the education indeed be provided to those who don’t have access to the internet and technology?

In 2018, only 23.8% of households across India, with rural availability at 14.9% and urban at 42%, had internet facilities, as per the government's survey. States like Bihar, Odisha, and West Bengal had fewer than 9% rural households with internet access.

Such a grim ability to access internet strikes at the core rationale of using the internet as a mode to impart education and is sure to brutally impact the learning curve of children in public institutions if an internet-only approach is implemented.

Although the damage to the education sector is similar to the damage that each sector across the world is undergoing, it is likely that with some mindful planning, we might be able to curb the long-term consequences of this extended cessation.

Considering that, states must either make accessible the compulsory resources to students of public institutions or come up with feasible substitutes for internet-based learning. The Delhi government had proposed a thought-provoking idea to offer data packages to Classes X-XII. This may have few implementation challenges – mainly the misuse of data for purposes apart from learning – smart technology solutions can be ideated.

Likewise, one more exciting idea has been in works in Uttar Pradesh, which is planning to use Doordarshan, All India Radio, and community radio to encourage audio-based learning amongst students who lack internet-connectivity.

The 12 years of education are of great importance for every student and are the base years that will promote economic and social mobility of deprived and underprivileged classes. A long and unplanned pause can shatter many dreams and further damage the country in long-term with less-educated individuals. We need a more skilled and talented workforce to get us out of the recession that the world will experience. Overcoming a crisis cannot be at the cost of our country's children's public education system.

- Bhavya Singh, a third year student of law at Symbiosis Law School and a volunteer at EdJustice People's Campaign.

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