Education ministry plan recommends use of CSR funds to overcome digital divide - Hindustan Times
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Education ministry plan recommends use of CSR funds to overcome digital divide

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAmandeep Shukla
Aug 20, 2020 11:47 AM IST

According to a ministry study, around 27% of the students from institutes like Kendriya Vidyalayas and Central Board of School Education-affiliated schools did not have smartphones and laptops to enable them to join virtual classes

The Union education ministry has recommended the use of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds to address the problem of the digital divide as the Covid-19 has forced the closure of educational institutes and forced them to opt for online classes, officials aware of the matter said.

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Officials said the suggestion is part of a plan to ensure the pandemic does not adversely affect learning as many students do not have access to smartphones, computers, or the internet to attend online classes.

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According to a ministry study, around 27% of the students from institutes like Kendriya Vidyalayas and Central Board of School Education-affiliated schools did not have smartphones and laptops to enable them to join virtual classes.

Education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank on Wednesday issued Students’ Learning Enhancement Guidelines, which suggests the use of CSR funds for creating mobile libraries as one of the ways to help students overcome the digital divide.

“One way of ensuring continuous learning is to ensure that children continue to read and enrich their learning process through reading textual material other than prescribed textbooks. States and Union Territories may consider mobile libraries for remote parts, where the library vehicle visits on designated days and students can borrow library books or return read books on those days. This activity can also be taken up through CSR efforts,” the guidelines said.

Along with the mobile libraries, pre-loaded e-content on tablets and laptops for the children to learn from can also be a part of the mechanism. The library vehicles are envisaged to remain parked in one place for an hour or two and have tie-ups with the local schools to decide on e-content. This activity can also be taken up through CSR efforts or by any volunteers from the local communities ready to provide such resources on their own, the guidelines said.

Three-fourths of students in India did not have access to the internet at home, according to a 2017-18 all-India National Statistical Office survey. The share of those who did not have computers, including devices such as palm-tops and tablets, was 89%. Access to these facilities was higher among students at higher levels of education. But even at the highest levels, a large share of students did not have access to these facilities. Access to the internet and computers is directly related to household incomes.

The guidelines also suggest that help may be taken from governments, charity organisations, companies under CSR for obtaining android phones and gadgets for online classes.

Nishank, who released the guidelines virtually, said institutions under his ministry worked together and attempted to take school education to children at home through digital means.

The new National Education Policy approved last month also talks about being ready for digital and online education, although it adds a rider that the digital divide must be eliminated to fully benefit from such methods.

The Companies Act requires firms with a net worth of 500 crore or more, or turnover of 1,000 crore or more, or net profit of 5 crore or more in the immediately preceding financial year, to mandatorily spend 2% of average net profit of the preceding three years on CSR. Money earmarked for spending on CSR activities is about 15,000 crore a year. According to an industry estimate, about 50,000 crore has been spent on CSR since 2014-15 and around 30,000 crore remains unspent.

A company’s board is empowered to plan, decide, execute, and monitor the activities under CSR on the recommendations of a committee. The government has specified broad areas of spending in Schedule VII.

Approved activities under CSR include eradicating extreme hunger, poverty, promotion of education, promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as reducing the child mortality, improving maternal health, and combating diseases.

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