Recently, we had witnessed one of the biggest lockdowns in human history. With few exceptions, all services put their operation on halt. road and air traffic were suspended, industries were operational with reduced capacities, markets, shopping malls, schools, colleges and universities were closed for extended period of time in an attempt to flatten the curve of the spread of covid-19 virus. This nation-wide lockdown had serious unintended consequences on various sectors including education. According to UNESCO recent data approx. 32 crores learners were affected in India due to closure of educational institutions.[1]

Online education has emerged as new normal in recent time. In general, it is believed that access to online education can overcome the problem of paucity of trained teachers, accessibility of good schools, quality education, and customised learning materials. On the other hand, there is mountainous challenges associated with online learning. Lower digital literacy coupled with fewer access to hardware devices, poor infrastructural support in remote locations, and digital divide posing pedagogical concerns for a large section of the society.

There are various hurdles comes in the way of enabling digital education in the rural clusters. One of the most significant challenge is digital divide with deep rooted gender and class divide. The “Household Social Consumption: Education” report published by National Sample Survey Organization in the month of July 2020, depicts stark reality of digital divide in rural and urban clusters in India. According to its latest findings only 4% HH in rural cluster have access to computer in contrast, 23% urban HH have computer accessibility.[2]

Although, Indians consume highest internet data (Average12 GB data per month) globally but Internet penetration among rural households in various states is quite skewed and has been exclusionary. The proportion of households with access to internet varies from 5.8% in rural Odisha to 7.9% in West Bengal to 39.4% in Punjab to 48.6% in Himachal Pradesh. As whole only 14.9% rural HH have internet access, compared to 42% households in urban cluster.[3] Sam Pitroda, previouslyheaded India’s National Knowledge Commission during 2005-09 claims “We don’t have reliable access to broadband that we need for education because education is not just about text and voice it includes graphics, video, animation and interaction.”[4] According to the Urvashi Sahni, Founder and CEO – Study Hall Educational Foundation, “access to technology and the internet is an urgent requirement in the information age. It should no longer be a luxury.”[5]

For instance, in Pratapnagar block in Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand “of the total 6,500 kids, only 2,500 are benefited from online teaching. The remaining 4,000 are unable to study because of non-availability of smartphones or high-speed internet connectivity at their homes”.[6]

We can’t not guarantee good online education unless and until our teachers and parent are not trained. According to recent survey it was found that almost 50% of the university teaches are not accustomed with online education and merely 4% of teachers have got formal training on online education.[7] Similarly, Women need to be digitally empowered and it is prerequisite for any online education to happen at home because women spend most of their time at home and they are usually the ones taking care of the children and responsible to ensure that they study at home but actual scenario is pathetic. In Rural HHs in India, only 16% women have mobile internet access compare to 36% of their male counterpart.[8]

Providing digital devices and access should go hand in hand with training of the teachers. Explaining the importance of training of the teachers, experts says “Just because you provide digital devices and access, it doesn’t assure that teacher will be able to deliver education. Because teachers themselves don’t know how to operate computers.”[9] Except in few states our government schools are also not equipped with digital platform suitable for online teaching. 

Cost incurred for getting high speed internet data connection is putting extra financial burden on parent. India is a home of largest number of poor people in the world and they are struggling for getting two square meal for their family. This condition will worsen in near future due to various socio-economic factors arise due to pandemic. In such condition, it would be difficult for parents to bear extra cost on online education.

Central and various state governments have taken several strides to facilitate remote learnings by developing several digital portals i.e. DIKSHA is the ‘one nation; one digital platform launched under eVidya by Govt. of India for school education in India. It is accessible across digital devices laptop, mobile, desktop, tablets, TV and radio. Similarly, Swayam Prabha and Gyan Deep’ programme relaying learning content through DTH and Doordarshn to overcome the issues of internet connectivity in remote and hilly locations. Govt of Uttarakhand had launched ‘SamparkBaithak App’ in collaboration with Sampark Foundation for primary level students. But bigger question is whether are we able to increase our user base? Answer is No. During recent time new subscribers have been sign up for the course but number is miniscule. Apart from lack of accessibility of the digital hardware, there are various other factors are associated with low enrolment on digital portals. Lack of knowledge of the teachers, students and parent about these digital portals is the foremost reason for low enrolment. Secondly, contents being relaying on the channel are not aligned with the classroom contents being delivered by teachers, so students found it obsolete.

Strong blend of partnership among public, private and civil society has potential to leverage online education to the last mile to provide low cost hardware and software and also by providing learners with timely access to the knowledge repository.

Way forward

Facilitating online education using modern digital technology has multiplier effect on education but such education system can’t replace or considered as substitute of classroom education. It should be customised in such a way that it can complement our offline education to keep our learning process moving.

Social interaction and peer learning are vital for children for developing cognitive skill but these aspects are missing in current context. Online pedagogy should be designed in such a way that students should get opportunity for meaningful and continued social interactions. For getting effective and engaging online learning, feedback mechanism should be in place so that pedagogy and contents can be modified based on the suggestions received from parent, teachers and students.

According to the UNESCO’s State of Education Report for India 2019, only 61% of the total 7.8 million children with special needs (CWSN) between the age group of 5-19 are in educational institutions.[10] Is our online education infrastructure CWSN friendly? Any such policy without support infrastructure for Child with Special Need will run the risk of excluding a significant section of students from mainstream education.


[1]https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

[2]Report “Key Indicators of Household social consumption on Education in India”, Nov, 2019 NSS 75th round, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation

[3]Report “Key Indicators of Household social consumption on Education in India”, Nov, 2019 NSS 75th round, Ministry of Statistics and  Programme Implementation

[4] https://www.thequint.com/news/education/not-safe-to-reopen-schools-declare-zero-year-says-sam-pitroda

[5] Sahni Urvashi, May 14, 2020, Brookings, COVID-19 in India: Education disrupted and lessons learned

[6]https://en.gaonconnection.com/poor-internet-connectivity-limited-smartphone-users-and-extreme-weather-conditions-make-online-schooling-a-challenge-in-hill-villages-of-uttarakhand/

[7]https://www.thequint.com/news/education/not-safe-to-reopen-schools-declare-zero-year-says-sam-pitroda

[8]Report “Key Indicators of Household social consumption on Education in India” , Nov, 2019 NSS 75th round, Ministry of Statistics and  Programme Implementation

[9]https://www.thequint.com/news/education/not-safe-to-reopen-schools-declare-zero-year-says-sam-pitroda

[10] State of the Education Report for India 2019Children with Disabilities, UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office    https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000368780?posInSet=1&queryId=61d8f754-79af-400a-ae81-8b3700e24397