E-learning and digital divide in the Pandemic

Even though it is not accessible to all students alike, e-Classes in the ongoing Pandemic is of vital importance. While physical distance is considered as an only practical deterrent against the spread of coronavirus, the virtual instruction can compensate for the studies and prove to be an alternative to schooling for the crisis-time. The social-media-connectivity and sophisticated e-applications can make virtual learning an effective way of having an uninterrupted teaching-learning process. However, the inconsiderate practice of e-learning has only revealed the digital divide in our society.

The global outbreak of the coronavirus in earlier months of 2020 triggered many debates about the functioning of the world. The World Health Organisation declared that the globe was under a Pandemic. Policy world, too, was stunned to see the new challenges emerging from all directions. The novel enemy came with transcendent expeditiousness and unpreparedness for a new war against an alien enemy took a bit for the leaders to figure-out the response.

Primarily, the Pandemic paralysed wheels of governance and delivery of services also got affected. This kind of handicap was not witnessed even in the World Wars. The human consequences and suffering became much higher as compared to many other crises in contemporary history. The economic loss, the human cost that includes physical and mental well-being is escalating in the world that is increasingly anxious and unhappy.

The teaching and learning process also emerged as a sector that also received a considerable setback, perhaps only after the health care system. To respond to this, many governments world-wide temporarily closed educational institutions as an attempt to deter the spread of the COVIS-19. The world-wide closure has impacted 91% of the world’s student population. Thus, UNESCO demands mitigation, especially for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. The relief should include facilitation and continuity of education for all through home-schooling.

The coronavirus has changed many things, including how millions around the world will receive education. The swift risk-control policies encouraged millions of students into temporary remote-learning. As they say, we have to learn from the countries affected by the spread of the virus earlier. The home-schooling too emerged in those countries like China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. And now it is being quit fruitfully being replicated all over the world. Therefore, it is safe to say that abrupt unleashing of events caused inconvenience but also prompted for innovation in the process of teaching-learning. Predicting for future is premature, but it seems that the learning innovation and digitisation will have a lasting impact on the education system globally.

Against this backdrop, The JK government also replicated it and implemented the closure. The timely decision makes enormous sense to prevent the institutions from becoming the hot-spots of the virus as such institutions are open spaces that can prove suitable for the communication of coronavirus and facilitate its spread through the human bodies, far and wide. Consequently, concerned departments are issuing orders for conducting the digital classes on applications like Zoom and so on. Working with the government department has made me aware that much right decisions are far away from reaching their objectives due to the lack of bottom-to-top inputs.

Therefore, it is essential to raise some points that can make the implementation of this decision productive. There are specific challenges that are responsible for the possible failure of e-learning in this region, as a critical digital divide is apparent in front of us. Fundamentally to run an entire education system online requires a fast connectable internet service that is not available in this region. Deprivation and inaccessibility are the significant issues that both the communities of students and teachers are facing.

In big cities, we have the freedom to visualise that the entire world is equipped with smartphones and gadgets, but that is not the reality. In an inadequate network coverage, an instructor is left without a tool, and no party can download materials like e-books, educational videos or share PPTs, and so on. The children born to privileged strata and educated parents have many ways to compensate, but students of lower-income and marginal backgrounds are those who will be left behind, thus localising the digital divide.

The female students are particularly facing the problem of having access to the gadgets and then open a virtual window to strangers. This case has two aspects; predominantly possibility of molestation that is the reality of the virtual world and the stigma attached to it, and obviously the inaccessibility to the resources. Nevertheless, the operation encourages screen-shot marathon of pictures all over the social network groups. That to my understanding is not mission accomplished, but is indicative of the absence of multiple voices in the system. Instead, the plan has to be carried out with coordinated, democratic and inclusive decision making and implementation.

One more challenge that already exists but is responsible for inadequate response in the present situation too. If we sample students of the class 11th and 12th in this, one understands that the students are reinforced to read from the notes made by someone sold by some others. The habit of oration from ready-made material (sometimes unauthenticated) is preventing students from reading the text, thinking, comprehension, creativity and self-reflection, which at least is a need in social science. The absence of rich libraries, access to the internet, basic training of language and exposure to new technology and ways of learning in the remote educational institutions have already made a student align to modern techniques of the teaching-learning process. The same habit is disallows students in taking all the trouble to be in a virtual class.

The objective of the whole exercise is to make education more accessible to the students of disadvantaged and marginal backgrounds by facilitating continuous education through virtual classes. The superficial practice is far from bearing any fruit, and learning outcomes are a distant dream, and only thing achievable is enhanced digital divide. Additionally, the protection of the practitioner is of utmost importance, and the government apparatus itself states that applications like Zoom compromise security and privacy that made many teachers apprehensive. In such pretext, the administration should issue advisory in consultation with the technocrats and enhance help to its untrained personals.

The author is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She also teaches Political Science and specialises in International Studies.