Opposition MPs highlight digital divide among students during Covid-19 pandemic
Members in Lok Sabha on Tuesday pointed out that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed serious digital divide in the country with a section of students not having access either to the internet or even medium of learning aids like tablets and smartphones.
Taking part in a discussion on demands for grants of the education ministry, Congress member Shashi Tharoor said as classes shifted online, not only were teachers, who are underpaid, as they were ill-equipped to handle such a significant change and the experience only demonstrated that online learning in its current form is exclusionary and discriminatory.
"It should be a matter of great shame for us and even in my own state of Kerala, which is supposed to be an education beacon for the country, we had incidents like that of the death of a school topper, a class 10 student who hailed from a Dalit family in dire economic conditions.
"When classes were shifted online, her father was a daily wager and he had no wages coming in during the pandemic and the lockdown. They were unable to give her a smartphone to follow online classes," Tharoor said.
He also pointed out the case of a Lady Shri Ram College student in Delhi who apparently died by suicide as she did not have resources to buy a laptop.
"She felt she did not wanted to be a financial burden for the family. These are crucial issues. I am sure that the finance ministry will be listening. These two young women were not just bright sparks in their own right but in many ways, represent the future of our country.
"A future in their cases was destroyed by the inability to provide sufficient safeguards against the disturbances causes by online classes," he said.
Tharoor stressed the need both in the new National Education Policy (NEP) and any other government schemes to do better to rise to the challenge of this digital divide.
Highlighting the issues faced by students in his constituency, NCP leader Fazil Mohammed said internet connectivity in the Lakshadweep archipelago was very feeble when students took online classes. He said there were many who were deprived of tablets, smartphones and laptops.
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant said while learning moved from classroom to homes, many had issues with the internet, power connections and non-availability of essential learning aids like phones, laptops and tablets.
Congress MP Santokh Singh Chaudhary said due to the pandemic, digital education has been introduced but children of poor people like rickshaw pullers and labourers do not have laptops and computers.
Apna Dal leader Anupriya Patel suggested that the government should ensure that every child in rural areas have access to smartphone so that their education is not impacted.
YSRCP MP Sri Krishna Devarayalu Lavu said that the reduction in education budget is "very worrying" and suggested that all efforts should be made by the government to bridge the digital divide in education.
BSP leader Danish Ali also said the government should look at issues to bridge the digital divide in education while National Conference leader Hasnain Masoodi asked how many students have access to digital education.
Today, there is inadequate infrastructure for the education sector, he said, adding that drop out rates today are increasing and enrolment rate is also coming down.