By Projwolita Choudhury
With significant rise in technological advancements and new feats achieved each day, we seem to be moving towards a more technology savvy world. Nations across the globe are making huge sums of investments in bringing about a ‘digital revolution’ that is designed to provide their citizens a ‘have it all’ lifestyle, and that too just within the click of a button. The revolution has percolated to one of the most valued commodities of mankind, as education adapts to digital platforms under the tag of ‘Online Education’. The education systems of numerous first World countries rely on this medium for various aspects of learning ranging from assignments to examinations, to promote distant learning.
In times of crisis such as the Covid19 pandemic, when schools and colleges is shut, the provisions of online learning does seem to bring a ray of hope among the aspirants whose future hangs under the radar of skepticism. However, it is still not clear as how inclusive this medium of learning actually is especially for those belonging to the underprivileged and marginal sections of our societies?
The access to digital resources in developing nations such as ours is very limited and caters exclusively to the privileged. City dwellers often complain of overcrowding but statistics reveal that a major chunk of our population resides in the rural areas where availing uninterrupted internet services still remains a far fetched dream, let alone the plight of remote and conflicted areas. Neither the manufacturers of electronic gadgets nor do the data tariffs of telecom companies facilitate subsidized rates to the poor. To this date, even the most prestigious institutions in the nation resort only to pen-paper mode of evaluations. This of course brings us to the larger picture, as facts reveal that the problems do not end at the three 'a’s i.e. affordability, access and availability but pervade beyond the socio-economic discrepancies such as fee hikes in public funded institutions to inadequately equipped faculty who hold little or no experience of online teaching.
Amidst the underlying problems, guidelines that prescribe to resort to online learning while one is encompassed in uncertainty, fear and despair not only raises substantial questions around the notion of quality education being a fundamental right to every individual irrespective of their backgrounds but also negate the experiences of most students and teachers. For there are others who live in toxic households faced with financial instability, who have lost their belongings and livelihood having met with natural disasters such as floods and cyclones during monsoons and now live in miserable state funded shelters. Among them are victims of gender disparity and domestic abuse, who have suffered the loss of their loved ones or are themselves, battling serious health problems.
The non-existent buzz around the problematic schedule of online classes being carried out by most elitist institutions that justify exploitative practices through their motto's of academic excellence, speaks volumes of the capitalistic world that we live in today. The prioritization of text book learning over all round development of young minds has only helped us in raising materialistic individuals who lack basic human values such as empathy, love and care. The aim of education has trickled down to clearing college cut offs or competitive examinations that prefer grades over aptitude and such exclusionary orders of carrying out classes or examinations through online mediums only widen the inequality gap in all aspects. The dire consequences of sheer ignorance and failure in addressing the mental health issues faced by the student fraternity are evident in terms of the countless suicide cases being reported each day.
As long as the cries and hues of student unions remain unheard and the authorities accountable are not held responsible for their actions, all care and concern for the student community will become tokenism in nature. There exists various solutions to the predicament such as delaying all kinds of evaluation and examinations for a definite period of time till the pandemic is controlled, ensuring that the required number of classes that have been missed are later covered up for through physical learning, keeping checks and balances on the fees of education institutions and issuing subsidies for the needy while extending the academic calendar for the year.
Online education is surely a brilliant idea that is being tried and tested in many countries across the World. However, as long as we as a nation falter in providing the basic infrastructure with limited resources in hand, it is important that we make the suggestive changes, as there is no crime greater than denying education based on privilege itself. We must remember what the great American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey had once said “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
is a student of
the University of Delhi
[Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that views and opinion of the publisher]