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healthcare | IST

Get Schooled: Gap in learning, digital divide and beyond

The emergency report on school education - a survey conducted across 1,300 households in 15 states - has laid bare the digital divide in India.

New infections in the last 24 hours stand at just over 31,000-- this is the second straight day of cases falling below the 40,000 mark.
But testing numbers are generally low during the weekend and it reflects in Monday's and Tuesday’s data. Only Kerala and Mizoram have a test positivity rate above 10 percent.
On the vaccination front, over 37 lakh doses have been administered as of 4 pm today-- yesterday's tally stood at over 1.1 crore doses-- this is the third time that daily inoculations crossed the 1-crore mark. With this, the 7-day vaccination average stands at nearly 80 lakh doses. As things currently stand, over 12.6 percent of the 
population has received two doses and 41.3 percent population received at least one dose.
The emergency report on school education - a survey conducted across 1,300 households in 15 states - has laid bare the digital divide in India. The survey shows that only 8 percent of students between classes 1 and 8 in rural India were able to access online education during the pandemic, while 37 percent did not study at all. In urban areas, only 24 percent had access to online classes, while 19 percent did not study at all.
Combined with the inability to pay school fees and poor access to study material have had a severe impact on learning outcomes. As a result, 97percent of the parents surveyed supported the reopening of schools. To discuss this in detail, CNBC-TV18 caught up with Reetika Khera, development economist, and professor, IIT Delhi.
When asked how bad things were on the ground as per their survey, Khera said they had been trying very hard for the reopening of schools to be part of the public debate because children were completely forgotten for a large part of the lockdown since last year.
"There is a digital divide issue. Very few children had a smartphone of their own, only nearly 9 percent but it's not just a digital divide issue because even if they have a smartphone, it doesn't really solve their problems, or even if the household has a smartphone, it doesn't solve that problem."
Because there might be data-related issues, there might be connectivity issues, which are of course most serious in rural areas, she said.
But even if those barriers are overcome, what they found is that the materials that have been shared on these phones, in the name of digital education, online education is really not adequate for the child to cope with.
"What is interesting is that since we have released the report yesterday, even the parents whose children are studying in the best schools in Delhi, they have written to us saying –‘My child is has been struggling and no matter how hard we try, the child is experiencing difficulties in learning levels’. So you can imagine that when you take away the data and connectivity, you take away the smartphone, you go to a rural area, and there none of this is happening," she added.
Parents are finding it very hard to get them to study even if they want but there has been no support at all.
"Also when we're talking about underprivileged people, their parents also have to go out and earn money. They are not able to get the kind of time that required to teach a child," Khera said.
26 percent of those surveyed have switched from private to government schools, ostensibly because of the inability to keep paying the fee that private schools were asking.
Now, while that is an important number -- Is there any indication of how many kids have just dropped out altogether?
Khera said this is actually the next worry. "That's how many of them will be able to go back to school and of course, this is a particular worry in the slightly older age group in our sample, which is the 10 to 14 years, because already, many of them are involved in different kinds of work, not so much child labour directly, but certainly unpaid work on the farm, or in a family shop, or, of course, for girls much more helping her out with household chores."
"So when they're in the older age group, we are quite concerned and you know, there was an ambiguity for some of these children about whether they would be able to get back to school, she said adding that in their survey, they did not have a number, and they did not ask that question. But it is something that one should definitely keep an eye out on."
"The 90s was really the decade where we struggled to get universal enrollment, which we managed to achieve. And then the next decade has been to improve the quality of schooling. Suddenly, it seems like there is a danger of being set back by almost 20 years, certainly in terms of learning achievements and literacy and hopefully not also struggling to get to universal enrollment again," said Khera.
On learning outcome – there have been no tests or fewer tests have happened than students are ordinarily used to, there are reading difficulties. Other surveys also talk about the difficulties in dealing with math, etc. "For instance, where do you believe the gaps are going to be more severe on the back of what the survey is telling you when it comes to learning outcomes?"
Khera said, “For me personally, to the extent that I did participate myself, the really frightening thing is - in Delhi, we interviewed a little girl and asked her if she was enrolled in school? And she said, Yes, I went to school last year to be enrolled in class one and she said the next day, the lockdown was announced. So this little girl, she has not been to a single day of school other than the day that she was enrolled. And now she's going to go to class two or three without attending a single day.”
"For children who are to be taught to read and write the letters and numbers? They are the ones who are going to suffer the most those who had acquired some literacy, maybe they can, with some bridge courses and remedial classes, they might be able to catch up. But what we are going to do about this group, is a big question," she added.
Watch the accompanying video for the full discussion