How the ed-tech sector is minimising digital divide in India
2 Aug 2022
It became apparent after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic when educational institutions began to hold classes online. Edtech came to the forefront as there was no option other than to leverage technology and thus became an enabler for the education sector.
The digital divide with regards to education has been a hot-button topic for many years. Since 24 percent of Indian households were found to have access to the internet and access to education seemed limited, many felt that access to edtech was not uniform to enable all people to benefit.
However, there was an upside to this digital transformation that slowly began to permeate across India.
By prioritising education and exploring technological solutions, communities could, to an extent, create and maintain an equitable educational structure that gives students an opportunity to succeed.
EDUCATIONAL DIGITAL DIVIDE
As the educational digital divide has such a profound effect on students’ overall growth, safety and well-being, many community and business leaders too have been exploring ways to address the problem at the local level.
In many ways, edtech has helped to ensure that the digital divide is narrowed and hence an opportunity for everyone associated with education in the country. The other major benefit of this has been that education in India, which so far has been restricted largely to classrooms, has opened up new vistas for working individuals who are keen to further their careers or up skill for better job prospects.
All this while, they were constrained by work schedules and managing time to attend classes. The process of creating a level playing field in the job market has been set in motion through edtech platforms that offer affordable and accessible options.
DIGITAL LEARNING ECOSYSTEM
The evolving digital learning ecosystem in India has also brought within its fold the teaching community, parents and employers. There is a marked change in the way online courses are now perceived by parents and employers. Gone are the days of distance education that was frowned upon.
By 2025, according to a study, 30 per cent of Indians will become daily Internet users, while around 87 percent of Indian households will have an Internet connection by 2025.
As a result, edtech will provide students and potential job seekers a shot at fulfilling their dreams and thereby transform the socio-economic construct of the country. The opportunity of enrolling for courses of international repute that were hitherto inaccessible, primarily due to financial barriers, has also now been lowered.
Another positive fallout of this digital transformation in the education space has been the modification of course curriculum. Teachers and instructors are now able to keep abreast of developments taking place in their areas of specialisation and, as a result, learning pedagogy is now seeing a drastic change.
Schools and colleges that were so far reticent about making drastic changes to the curriculum are now taking steps to rectify this lacuna. When the pandemic struck, there was no doubt that the digital divide in the educational system, in particular, became stark and obvious. However, schools began leveraging digital platforms to instruct, deliver content, to communicate with the students and parents.
Just like any technological solution, the features and uses vary between platforms, with some being more flexible than others. Some have options for accessing content offline or allowing content to be downloaded. In many an instance, schools supply devices to students. This also made engagement with parents more frequent and thereby gives them a window to look into the educational progress of their wards.
The debate on the digital divide has highlighted how this new system disproportionately impacts students hailing from the marginalised classes or rural India. However, there are efforts being made by the government, non-government bodies and institutions that have come together to help with the adoption of edtech amongst weaker sections of society or rural areas.
For instance, technology is being used to craft courses that can be delivered in regional languages, making it easier for students and parents from rural areas to grasp subjects better. Such technology also allows curriculum to be tailored to the needs of students and helps monitor their progress.
For one, widespread access to the high-speed Internet has become imperative. Currently, the biggest barrier impacting access to education is connectivity. Nearly all policy recommendations addressing the digital divide have focused on improving connectivity with priority.
Inequal access to electronic devices and the lack of reliable, high-speed Internet negatively impacts access to opportunities, achievements and widens the gaps in education.
A few countries have elevated high-speed broadband to the level of a Fundamental Right, as that access is crucial to almost all aspects of modern life.
Programmes addressing internet access imbalances, such as universal Wi-Fi, can improve opportunities for education and ensure that all students have the tools to succeed.
For all this to happen, the government’s active intervention in tandem with the private sector is essential. The gains from the edtech sector for students in particular and society at large have been considerable, as mentioned earlier, but more needs to be done if we are to transform the quality of education in our country.
--Article by Anand Maheshwari, Managing Director, Allen Digital Pvt. Ltd.