A Bridge Over The ‘Digital Divide’: Equitable Internet Access
It is the first week of the year and while it seems like we cannot rush fast enough towards the rest of 2021, we take this transitional moment to pause and reflect, to take our hats off to those that have persevered throughout this year to cope with the challenges it brought.
In our previous blogs, we introduced our participative program approach and shared our solutions for implementing ed-tech programs in a developing context. In this final post of the year, we dedicate our voice wholly to the issue of the ‘digital divide’ in education, its facets and solutions from both India and all over the world.
‘Digital Divide’ in education is the unequal division of access, use and impact of information communication technology for education, among different groups of people. The inequity in digital infrastructure, digital literacy and behavioural adoption is not merely observed as a class- divide, but also as gender and regional inequality in India.
Bridging The Divide
The responsibility of bringing about infrastructural solutions lie in the hands of both the private and the public sector. In India, government policies like ‘Atmanirhar Abhiyan’ will focus on giving an impetus to low- cost mobile phones production in India and the lack of access of internet connectivity in rural areas can be improved with the introduction of community technology centres (internet-enabled community areas and schools). In remote parts of the country that are off-grid and where fibre optic is not yet available, private sector innovations like Google internet ‘balloons’ could be introduced. Globally, in 2020, Argentina distributed learning kits to students who did not have access to the internet, Rwanda and Kenya provided free internet for students, so that they can access online education easily. Many countries, including India are also using television educational programmes, as they are more accessible than online services. Some other commendable programs in India to decrease infrastructural digital divide, are Optical Fibre Network (aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh gram panchayats of India) and Unnati Project by Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) which gives the rural students access to computer education.
Digital Literacy Solutions
‘Digital literacy’ is the ability to use digital technology efficiently, here, for educational purposes and this is very much also dependent on one’s behaviour change and cultural factors. Not surprisingly, the level of education one has acquired, does not always directly correspond to similar levels of digital literacy. To improve skills in using digital technology for education, the government’s National Digital Literacy Mission should introduce digital literacy at the primary school levels in all government schools, although the introduction of such in middle school in the NEP (New Education Policy) is welcome. To improve behavioural divide, policy makers can shift learning outcomes focus from just examination scores, to a focus on providing content and pedagogy on self- learning of skills, including peer learning as well as group-learning. Some initiatives that are working towards bridging the digital literacy divide are ‘Internet Saathi Program’ (to facilitate digital literacy among rural Indian women), ‘DIKSHA’ (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform (the national platform for school education available for all states and the central government for grades 1 to 12) and the ‘Online Massive Open Online Course’ courses on the SWAYAM portal.
With the arrival of a new year, here’s hoping to see the positive impact of programs that are already lighting our way and a call to action for more fellow innovators, to help bridge the digital divide!