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USE OF VIRTUAL PLATFORMS IN THE FIELD OF EDUCATION – WHETHER A BOON OR BANE?

Updated: Jul 29

[Co-Authored by Tejaswini Prasad, a 2nd year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) student at School of Law, Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida and Kalyani Pandey, a 1st year B.A. LL.B (Hons.) student at Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.]

INTRODUCTION


While the whole world has been under lockdown due to the pandemic of coronavirus, in the past few months we have seen a new platform arising in the field of education in terms of virtual classes and even virtual exams as maintaining social distancing is the best way to protect oneself from acquiring the virus. We well know that India is a nation with huge diversity and when a new concept is brought in front of the people, there is an equal probability of benefiting one section of the society and not benefiting the other section of the society. With this view, as India is still a developing country it becomes very important that the new methods which have been used by the people to give a new way to education should benefit the maximum number of students but it is rightly said that when we think that something can be a boon to many at the very same time it is equally a bane to the rest.


BOON TO THE URBAN SECTION OF THE SOCIETY


The access to the internet and gadgets are mostly affordable by the upper class and middle-class people and virtual education require gadgets with internet access to go with the flow so ultimately they have a boon during this pandemic. They can easily manage to educate their children via virtual platforms and in the end, they find the virtual learning a better method because it comes at their comfort zones.


BANE TO THE RURAL SECTION OF THE SOCIETY


When we talk about technology benefiting most of the people across the society, there is equally a harsh reality that rural people still are not the ones to get privileges by this very technology. They are the one who suffers the most as they cannot afford to buy costly gadgets at the cost of their living expenses and as use of internet requires recharge at an interval period it is very difficult for rural section people to manage the use of technology to teach their children via a virtual platform.

In India we still lack development at small towns and villages and access to electricity is itself a problem at today’s time and when it comes to accessibility of internet, it is a dream for them and the worst consequences of it are yet to come if lockdown will be continued for a longer period because rural sections’ students are depended on classroom teachings.


IMPACT OF VIRTUAL PLATFORM ON THE RURAL SECTION OF THE SOCIETY


1. LACK OF INTERNET ACCESS

The coronavirus pandemic has put-forward so many challenges in front of us and due to lockdown educational institution has been closed which affected the educational sector of India. Ministry of Home Affairs issued a notification to continue the classes of students through online medium. Education through online mediums is a welcome move for students living in urban areas but rural areas children are being deprived of getting education due to lack of internet access. There is a huge digital divide in the country because it is feasible for students living in metropolitan cities but creates a problem for rural area students. Absence of computers in schools, digital illiteracy among teachers and students, lack of economic resources to avail laptops or computers, lack of infrastructure prevents the students to take advantage of online education.

Bharat Net program of the government to gram panchayats or village blocks with high-speed internet is also not achieving its targets. As of April 2020, according to Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL)[1], the government has completed over a half targeted gram panchayats. Only 8.33 percent of all gram panchayats have service ready Wi-Fi hotspots. According to National Sample Survey 75th Report[2], only 16.5 percent of people know how to operate a computer and only 20.1 percent of people were found able to use the internet in India. This data shows that the major population of India is digitally illiterate.


2. INFRINGEMENT OF RIGHT TO EDUCATION

Supreme Court in the case Unni Krishnan, JP &Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh &Ors.[3], observed that the right to education must be dealt with the context of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Under DPSP State should provide, within ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, free and compulsory education for all children under the age of fourteen. State to fulfill this duty amended the Constitution in the year 2002 and inserted Article 21A[4]. Then, later on, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 was enacted. This Act imposed an obligation on State and Central to ensure that the Fundamental Right enshrined under Article 21A is protected.

According to the judicial decisions, it can be interpreted that the scope of the Right to Education has been widened by Indian Courts. Like, Kerala High Court in the case of Faheema Shirin RK v. State of Kerala &Ors.[5], went on to declare that the right to have access to the internet is an integral part of the Right to Education under Article 21.But, this right given as a Fundamental Right to children has been violated during this pandemic because students of rural areas do not have access to the internet which violates the judgment of the Supreme Court stated above and shows that State is not able to fulfill their duty in a best possible manner. They are not having digital equipment and facilities in rural areas. This should not be taken lightly because it ultimately creates the gap between the people of rural and urban areas. The state is empowered to impart every kind of source for students to provide free and compulsory education. Since the literacy rate in India is not very high and if due to this pandemic State will not fulfill its legal duty then illiteracy rate will go higher and the efforts put by the government to reduce illiteracy earlier will get wasted.


3. INCREASE IN DROP-OUT RATES LEADING TO GENDER INEQUALITY

Due to the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19 schools and colleges were closed. For further continuation of the learning process, the government issued guidelines to conduct online classes. Conducting online classes is an easy task for students of urban areas but people from rural areas face difficulty in continuing their education. In some areas, internet access is very low and some areas do not have internet access at all due to which drop-out rate of students will increase. As we already know the drop-out rate in India is high and due to inadequate facilities of the internet, it will increase. Students will leave their education and will indirectly lead to increase illiteracy rate of India also. Drop-out rates will be higher in girls as the number of women internet users is less than men's internet users. Even if girls are having mobile-phones they are not having androids as mostly rural section people have keypad phones. This will also enhance the digital divide between girls and boys.

The major reason behind dropping out of the education of children is the economic crisis to afford education. During this lockdown lakhs of migrant workers and others who are working in the unorganized sector got impacted. Due to which they lose their jobs and economic crisis will become one of the key factors for children to drop-out of school. Also, the National Sample Survey Annual Report[6] shows that economic factor is one the major reason behind dropouts so when this economic crisis arises due to this lockdown more students will drop-out from school and colleges. Since, India is a very diverse country consisting of citizens speaking different languages, following various cultures, one digital framework will not ensure equity and quality in providing education. And, if everyone will not be provided with education it will violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution which allows every citizen to enjoy equal rights.

The gender divide is very wide in India because “43 percent of Indian men own mobiles with only 28 percent of women having mobile ownership”.[7] This gender gap in mobile ownership depicts a misleading picture. Some girls who are having mobile phones don’t know how to operate the mobiles; they are unable to call someone, read messages, etc. which shows that they are unable to continue their education through online mediums. If girls will not be able to continue their education then the gender inequality rate will increase. Mathura, a district in Uttar Pradesh girls is not allowed to use phones outside their homes and fines being imposed on them of Rs. 2100.[8] Some parents don’t give phones to the girl child but boy child gets mobile which depicts that this will increase gender inequality. This shows that Article 14 is being violated by women in rural areas. There is a need to do something so that purpose of RTE, Article 14 can be fulfilled easily.


4. LEADING TO SUICIDE

Those who have not been able to access online classes have even attempted suicide and these incidents have been noticed in Velachery, Kerala[9] including Assam[10] and West Bengal[11] too. So we can notice the consequences of virtual platform affecting the rural people.


5. LANGUAGE AS A BARRIER TO EFFECTIVE LEARNING

As due to lockdown we have seen that most of the workers with their families have come back to their native places and the major reason that language problem will suffice is because of the understanding of small children especially if, for example, a family who has been residing in Maharashtra from past few years and has been speaking Marathi rather than Hindi and less access to the understanding of English will find it equally very difficult to understand gadgets to continue learning and to even give online exams because digital illiteracy will prevail and small kids will find it very difficult to cope with the situation.


SUGGESTIONS TO BUILD BETTER FRAMEWORK FOR EDUCATION


Since we know that, the worst affected section of the society due to lockdown is the rural section and accessibility of continuous learning becomes equally important when the whole nation has been under lockdown from March 2020 and is still under certain restrictions in the unlock phase.

At this time, different sorts of innovations and better frameworks are required to help the students and innovation have come up to help the rural sections giving the whole nation an example that though a place cannot be rich by wealth but is rich by ideas to help the young minds.

Like, in Bankhati Village of Jharkhand[12] the headmaster of “Upgraded Middle School” has set an example of an innovation by using loudspeakers all over the village for the continuation of the learning process since 16th April 2020 as access to technology via gadgets is impossible for the rural people as internet accessibility is unsteady there. This very innovative idea proves that where there is a will there is a way and when the desire for learning is much higher then even pandemic cannot stop learning. Here in this village classes go on for 2 hours every day starting from 16th April 2020 and by maintain social distancing, the students sit near the loudspeakers which have been put on the tress and poles in different areas of the village while teachers teach by using mics. Since we have seen that no access to virtual education is leading to even suicide at different parts of the nation so by using this very innovation students can be benefitted. Certain NGOs[13] are working to overcome language differences and even helping the disabled children to continue with education.


Some suggestions are being listed below to improve the framework of education.

  1. Schools do not have safe drinking water facilities, wash-basins for washing hands which are not in compliance with the Right to Education Act which ensures the normative framework to ensure quality education. Schools should be directed by the government to do the needful things so that when schools will be re-open safety of students can be maintained.

  2. The goal set up by Draft New Education Policy 2019 should be revised to extend the scope of one channel one digital framework because this setup will not be able to fulfill the need for education in today’s society.

  3. One board should be formed in every district to regulate the system of education under the Right to Education so that every student can get education equally.


CONCLUSION


We believe in the fact that education is a must but equally, safety is also an important factor and when it’s about the rural section of the society, they should not suffer just because of the lack of use of technology so government should take the very same innovative idea which Bankhati Village of Jharkhand has used to protect the Right to Education of the rural sections and help them from not dropping out from schools as education is a master to success and the young minds here are always eager to learn but due to lack of opportunities they suffer and we equally see that, NGO’s to have come up to help the needy but without the support of the government maintaining education is difficult so government should plan a better framework apart from just online teaching as the classroom teaching is far better than the online teaching because classroom teachings come at the cost of our comfort zones and lead a better interaction with the students than the virtual platforms.


[1] Bharat Net Usage Status as on 28-06-2020, http://bbnl.nic.in/usage2.pdf. [2] Key Indicators of Household social Consumption on Education in India, NSS 75th Round, Ministry of Statistical Office, http://mospi.nic.in/sites/default/files/publication_reports/KI_Education_75th_Final.pdf. [3]1993 AIR 2178. [4] INDIA CONST. art. 21A. [5] Faheema Shirin R.K. v State of Kerala & Ors WP(C).No.19716 OF 2019(L). [6] Annual Report 2014-15, National Statistical Commission New Delhi,http://www.mospi.gov.in/sites/default/files/annual_report/nsc_AR_2014-15.pdf. [7] Osama Manzar, Mobile phones empower women, Livemint, (26 Mar 2015, 12:34 PM), https://www.livemint.com/Opinion/DwiRdnamLz6pAKAEZhKaeL/Mobile-phones-empower-women.html. [8] Hemendra Chaturvedi, Mathura Village to fine girls using cell phones, Hindustan Times, (May 03, 2017 07:48 PM), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/mathura-village-to-fine-girls-using-cell-phones/story-6xmL3kYEKqEEAFG0YNbp8M.html. [9]Bobins Abraham, Unable To Attend Online Class Due To The Lack Of TV Or Mobile, Kerala Student Commits Suicide, India Times (Jun 02, 2020, 03:58 PM), https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/unable-to-attend-online-class-due-to-the-lack-of-tv-or-mobile-kerala-student-commits-suicide-514707.html. [10]UtpalParashar, 16-yr-old boy, who could not attend online classes, found dead in Assam, Hindustan Times (June 24, 2020 12:54 PM),https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/16-yr-old-boy-who-could-not-attend-online-classes-found-dead-in-assam/story-slDE3uD0uM3MHWkqHRg3vM.html. [11]Monideepa Banerjie, No Smartphone For Online Classes May Have Pushed Bengal Student To Death, NDTV (June 20, 2020, 04:49 PM),https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/west-bengal-bally-no-smartphone-for-online-classes-may-have-pushed-bengal-student-to-death-2249500. [12]Jasra Afreen, Classes on loudspeaker: Jharkhand teacher beats odds of online learning, Hindustan Times (June 25, 2020, 10:44 PM),https://www.hindustantimes.com/ranchi/classes-on-loudspeaker-jharkhand-teacher-beats-odds-of-online-learning/story-VttQBnAfFGq8k3WFLd5exJ.html. [13]AnvishaManral, Amid a pandemic, lockdown and government apathy, NGOs ensure online education addresses learning needs of disabled children,Firstpost (June 24, 2020, 10:34 AM),https://www.firstpost.com/india/amid-a-pandemic-lockdown-and-govt-apathy-ngos-ensure-online-education-addresses-learning-needs-of-disabled-children-8460271.html.

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