“It’s figuring us out faster than we’re figuring it out.” – This quote from the Hollywood movie Contagion seems to have come alive. From mighty powers to the small islands of the world, we are facing a common enemy – a tiny little insidious unknown virus. This virus has united the entire humanity in fear; in our inability to use all weapons with the most learned epidemiologists, virologists working closely with pharmaceutical companies and research organisations to develop a vaccine. All that is happening around us started bothering me and grew from the size of a grain to the size of an almond, hence I decided to write.
As a son, husband, teacher – a human
As I sat down to write I faced a dilemma, whom should I write as; a son who struggled with his elderly parent’s care, a working professional who had no boundaries between work and home, a teacher and career counsellor who was constantly worried about and was supporting his children in their challenging times to make choices that have never been made before, or as a fellow human being who could not sleep with what he has experienced, read or heard.
I chose to write as a fellow human, who was disturbed at the problems glaring at our faces at the moment. I am talking about the socio-economic and digital divide existing in our society leading to huge equity and access gaps.
The plight of our migrant workers
You and I, from the middle or high-income bracket, we’re talking only about our lives being disrupted due to the lockdown. We mostly had either regular income or our savings to survive, health insurance, a home where social distancing was possible, an option of working from the comfort of our homes. But have any of us thought about or cared for over 100 millions of dispossessed daily wage workers, circular migrant labours, vendors, rag pickers?
Facts, figures and reality
While we continued to wash our hands for a good 20 seconds every time we touched anything new, there were millions not even having access to clean water supply to drink. Do we expect a district hospital to handle 20,000 odd casualties in a day with meagre 31- 100 odd beds and one ventilator? We can all imagine the mortality rates. With these thoughts I couldn’t just sleep for days, could you?
How did we come to help
As an educator, I choose to be an optimist. There were movements driven by common people, young change makers, organisations like Goonj, Being Social- Ek nayi shuruwat, Legacy Cares, an initiative of Legacy School, Bangalore, Roti Bank Foundation who did phenomenal work to support migrant populations stranded in the streets, on the highways or in the train by mobilising resources and advocacy for them to live or go back home with dignity.
While we may debate about things being okay if not better once the pandemic recedes, what if tomorrow there is a natural disaster, or a mass unrest leading the country to lockdown, the class of informal workers I talked about will continue to be vulnerable, always. We must as a civil society have a dialogue in academia, amongst policymakers, to see how to bring in more social security for the more vulnerable through structural changes.
The Digital Divide
Another divide we talked about in the education fraternity was a digital divide, wherein in our country for every person who has access to the internet, there exists another who doesn’t have the access as per TRAI report in May 2020.
This digital divide has many layers, between urban and rural, between income brackets, and interesting enough between genders has led to the digital divide in education. With the lockdown, home learning is the only viable option, but the question is for whom, for rich, for the advantaged, for children, I deal with, but how about 85 % children from rural India and 58% from urban India who do not have access to the internet? As an educator, it bothers me to see how the existing digital divide will impact digital have nots and increase the inequity in educational outcomes.
Digital learning aids from the government
As published in an article in Deccan Herald, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has offered apps such as ePathshala, National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER), Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Active Minds, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and SWAYAM PRABHA, a group of 32 DTH channels broadcasting high-quality educational content to help students get access to online education.
The study conducted by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC)) shows that the television as a medium reaches out to 197 million households in the country of 298 million households. It has been found that learning through this medium can to an extent address the issues of equity and access and bridge the digital divide. However, it still leaves a segment of our population who will have no access to learning opportunities through any medium at all.
I have been thinking and wondering how can we as a nation ensure that today’s digital divide doesn’t lead to a far more complex socio-economic divide, ensuring vulnerable remains vulnerable and education becomes the prerogative of a few. I am looking for solutions, and invite my readers to help me understand the way these gaps can be addressed.
Contributor: Sameer Arora
About our Writing Program Student
Sameer Arora, Vice Principal at Legacy School, Bangalore.
A natural leader, a collaborator and an educator with 18 years of school experience with 6 years of entrepreneurial experience, ranging from teaching across all levels of school i.e. upper primary, middle and senior secondary; integrating pedagogical innovations in curriculum, creating a favourable environment for the students and faculty members, fostering partnerships with educational organisations and community, administration, supervising staff and resource management.
He has travelled to over 20 countries. Other than starting travel-based startups for school children, he has also worked with National Geographic Channel as a Project Lead India for their school project Unlock Hour. He is presently serving as an honorary Chair for the Scholarship, Inclusion & Diversity Committee for IC3. Of all the projects he has carried out, SAANJH Amritsar- Lahore festival is the closest to his heart where he conceptualised and executed 7 chapters of this festival focussing on music, theatre and sustainable dialogue with youth in both countries, reaching out to more than 30,000 children, youth and artists across borders.
- Reference 1 – Push for e-learning raises questions about accessibility
- Reference 2 – Indian education can’t go online – only 8% of homes with young members have computer with net link
- Reference 3 – A pandemic in an unequal India
Please Note: All views and opinions are purely of the contributor.