Digital education has frequently been regarded as a feasible solution for rural India to bridge the prevailing gaps in education delivery. Siddharth Chaturvedi, Executive Vice President, AISECT Group writes
The advantages of digital education are manifold. There are abundant barriers ahead in making education a complete digital paradigm in India. But, digital education has frequently been regarded as a feasible solution for the rural parts of India to bridge the prevailing gaps in education delivery. Considering the reach of digital education, people often contemplate it to overcome the problems associated with the delivery of quality education, insufficiency of school teachers in rural areas, high drop-out rates, and lack of innovative teaching-learning techniques and inadequate standard of the learning materials.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 also emphasises digital learning as an alternative to the conventionally accepted classroom model as a communication medium between teachers and students. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has paved the way for reducing the digital gap between urban and rural parts of India, especially from the point of view of education that has digital access. It has also unveiled the existing challenges for digitalisation of education in both Tier-III and rural parts of the country.
5 Key challenges
1. Access to digital devices and data cost for increasing use of content consumption
It is important for digital learning to observe the availability of digital devices for students availing digital content. Only an insignificant section of people living in the rural parts of India has proper access to laptops and computers. Even the students with desktops and laptops cannot use the internet, due to the cost incurred in the process and lower internet penetration in the vulnerable areas. Other than that, the mobile screens are not convenient for long hours of learning. The prices of the data packages also restrict the teachers and students to move forward with online classes. To address this situation, telecom companies can subsidise learning data plans to aid the existing gap.
2. Lack of digital literacy and infrastructural support
A major constraint of digital literacy in Rural India is that only 21.3 percent have access to desktops. A major chunk of the rural population in the country is in need of internet bandwidth and adequate knowledge to acknowledge the equipment and digital terminologies. Another important concern includes the shortage of infrastructural support facilities such as a steady flow of electricity and inaccessible high speed internet connection.
3. Absence of skills
As the teachers in rural India lack proper skills to operate digital platforms, it becomes another major factor influencing the propagation of digital education. The teachers are provided inadequate training to access the digital platforms and are averse to acquire these educational techniques. Other than that, single teacher schools are another major issue in the rural areas as there are 97,273 single teacher schools in the country accounting around 8.8 percent of schools in India.
4. Language Barrier
The absence of availability to regulatory content in Hindi as well as regional languages leads to a slow rate of online course adoption as almost 85% of the population living in India does not speak English. Standardised digital/online content that covers the prime modules from K-12 to higher education level seems far-fetched. Organising any standard content from open sources will eventually magnify the costs and will need the synchronised effort of the Government. In addition, the syllabus needs to be re-evaluated from an amalgamated learning approach.
5. Gender Inequality
The availability of internet and literacy is primarily constrained to the men in rural India, similar to most domains. The penetration of digital education amongst the rural females is even more demanding.
While these challenges demonstrate the present gaps for dissemination of online education in rural India, there are various schemes introduced by the Government to stimulate online learning under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). In addition to this, eBasta is introducing a framework making school books available and handy in digital form as eBooks for reading and using on tablets and laptops. Further initiatives include SWAYAM Spoken Tutorial, SWAYAM Prabha, National Digital Library (NDL), Virtual Lab, Free and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE), E-Yantra and MOOCs. Apart from that, the Government’s Digital India initiative covers a colossal plan to connect the rural parts of India with high-speed internet networks.
Though these schemes are supposed to be quite useful, there is a great amount of work that is left to be completed considering the country’s population and the selected areas. The digital education targets can be achieved only when all stakeholders work together.
Here are some of the ways through which stakeholders can contribute in overcoming the barriers of digital education in rural India:
- Ed-Tech organisations should provide low-budget multi-lingual platforms that work on low bandwidth and provide quality content. The Government can give tax benefits to these organisations for promoting it.
- The current situation will pave way for a survey on topics such as economical learning platforms, penetration of digital learning in rural areas, redefining learning science from a blended mode of approach thus benefiting the learners at large.
- Digital/online content delivery training should be arranged for the teachers by the state governments.
- The process of a vigorous and interactive online education can be initiated through innovative solutions.
- The rural areas of India can be well-resourced with the required infrastructure provided by the public-private schemes.
- The buoyant gambits under the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) of corporate hubs promoting online education in schools of rural parts of the country needs to be encouraged.
- The educational institutions in rural areas should be dispensed with online learning tools and alternate sources of energy like solar power should be established in these institutions.
Digital learning barriers in the rural parts of India can be removed through the delivery of affordable and accessible e-learning modes. EduVantage Learning App for kindergarten to class 12 students increases the engagement in student learning activities, improving digital literacy skills and much more. It also enables digitalisation of curriculum while ensuring that the contact with teachers remains intact. Other than that, content regulation, easing every necessary resource and facilities in government schools through up-skilling the teachers by providing customised teacher-training initiatives on digital learning, PPP (public-private partnership) model, combined learning in schools and development of programmes in online learning space by NGOs and CSR wings of companies should be considered for propelling digital education in rural India. In addition, all stakeholders must come together and produce an inventive pedagogy, attainable educational devices, proper infrastructure and a standard ecosystem for the growth of online education in rural India.
(Views expressed in the article are author’s own.)