Ayaz Ahmed Khan
Education is a social concept rooted in the emancipation for all. However Covid and the Covid induced lockdown proved a major disruptor.
While India’s transition to online education during the pandemic was well rightly appreciated however the sticky situation that it created for the school administrators more so for private schools (I don’t mean rich and big schools) spread far and wide in the country still remains unacknowledged and the efforts to make such a transition possible remain less appreciated.
Needless to mention that our Education System was struggling to deal with the digital divide even before the pandemic, since digital divide in the country is still a reality. In such times the unprecedented situation created by Covid 19 proved a major disrupter and the chaos and uncertainty affected the school system drastically. Covid caught us unawares and therefore exposed our lack of readiness and unpreparedness to meet any such sudden challenge. It reflected the development at social, economic and more particularly the education level, teaching-learning level, competence level, technological and digital advancement levels which obviously manifested in forms of time taken for online system, online classes, bridging the technological and competence gap between the teachers and the school leaders/owners, between teachers and students, between school and parents and therefore took time, created gaps and inequity in teaching-learning, created further digital divide between rich and poor and between those who have tech know how and those who have not. Thus, Covid showed us the mirror where we stand and brought us out from the mirage of considering ourselves and our system fully digital. We can’t deny though that the flagship programmes like digital India had already started well before the pandemic but at school level much was to be done when the pandemic hit us hard. Covid 19 made us see the current realities of the social, educational and economic emancipation in the forms of rising poverty and lack of access to smart phones among millions of our population. It reminds us of the struggle at the school level as well as the struggle of the parents to come to the digital landscape that was the last alternative for the education of their children.
Moreover the pandemic hit us when the country had just begun to move forward from dealing with the issue of enrolment to the learning outcomes now in future there are apprehension of increase in drop outs among poor besides the Pandemic shifted state’s priority tohealth care and saving the citizens which was an urgent need but every other sector especially education got affected with serious ramification for future. The already poor funded education sector got further affected as online education became a barrier and yet another divider among the students coming from well of and socio-economically poor background. The stakeholders especially the average private schools which were running on the tuition fee that would come from the students got badly impoverished amid the lack of revenue and income. Teachers had to bear the brunt in terms of job loss, or without pay or salary cuts which further posed severe challenges to school leaders. Further the logistics that were needed urgently to make the transition to online classrooms posed financial challenges to administration when no revenue was flowing. Almost one year passed that the education system in India has gone online, education now is totally depended on technology knowhow leaving the parents, teachers’ students and the school leaders in pressure, to adapt to such changes within a limited time. It was something like starting a defunct machine to utmost excellence which was obviously an ardent task. There was no alternative left for the school leaders, they had to be prepare for the sudden transition and unfortunately this led to many fallacies, shortcomings, technical issues, trained human resource issues, anxieties and frustrations, etc,.
At the social front, the challenges were more severe. The poor families had no food and health care facilities but they had to arrange a smart phone for online classes of their children. It was therefore unethical to ask for fee at that juncture and no revenue meant unpaid teachers but working hard in double-triple shifts to make online classroom a success. Also the application of online mode in government and public schools was initially a common issue but it simply cannot be generalised, as there is a huge difference in the manner government and public schools manage their revenue and human resource. Still small private schools had to do everything to exist as it was a do or perish situation at that critical juncture.
Pandemic though proved to be a disaster for all the types of schools be it the schools in the urban or rural areas or the tribal belts of India however Most of such schools were already with bare minimum infrastructure facilities so to expect them to have smooth transition to online system was quiet hypothetical. Then the school leaders were left with no choice but to shift to online system along with updating the other logistics to make it possible. This created pressure on school leaders as nobody was there to share their burden or attest acknowledge their in time efforts. It is a do or die factor for thousands of schools when schools either fell into debts or were closed, it is a fact that pandemic led many small private schools to perish in the country.
Right today these private school leaders are beset with several challenges; in terms of finance, loans, revenue, staff training, issues of increase in screen time of teachers and students posing a health hazard, untrained teachers, uncertain parents, etc., this has added to lot many anxieties and pressures in running these schools now. School leaders were making extra efforts to bring all the students in online classes working on logistics and online routine while thinking of students who were left out due to digital divide. So it was a challenge for school leaders to bring all students to the online classroom.
India is a young country with huge numbers of young population therefore we cannot afford digital divide at all. To overcome the huge digital divide we have to make it a national priority only when it is taken up as a national level issue then only the speed breakers, the bottlenecks, the roadblocks, the risk and the perceptions can be addressed. Just as every village on priority is connected through roads and electricity made accessible to people, in the same manner digital divide has to be addressed as a national priority since we may soon end up in the endemic stage.
We need to have united interest to solve technology issue. We must have debates on the issues of public and private schools in the parliament and address their concerns as it demands political seriousness. India has only a few hundred rich and big schools, therefore government must realise that lakhs of schools are lacking in digital infrastructure and need a package to arrest digital divide seriously. Average and medium private schools need to be provided with free technology infrastructure in rural and urban settings so that this huge issue of inequality is addressed. Also teacher training courses must be added to the concepts of online education, digital infrastructure, etc. So the question that arises and needs a solution is can we affords digital divide any further in young India today?
(Ayaz Ahmed Khan is Principal Rightway School Baroda, Gujarat)