UNICEF says, “the Indian education system is one of the largest in the world with more than 1.5 million schools, 8.5 million teachers and 250 million children.” However, a lack of access to quality education has pronounced India’s literacy gap. According to the World Bank, India’s literacy rate stood at 82% among adult men in 2018 while, among women, it stood at just 66%. A 2013-2014 survey said, at the time, around 20 million children in India did not attend preschool and about half of teenagers did not finish high school. Bridging the digital divide between the rural and urban and shifting to online education in India has the potential to expand education access in the country. In the last few years, India has launched several online platforms to ensure access to education for children of all backgrounds.
Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds
SWAYAM, a Hindi word for self, stands for Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds. The government program aims to improve education equity, access and quality. “The objective of this effort is to take the best teaching learning resources to all, including the most disadvantaged. SWAYAM seeks to bridge the digital divide for students who have hitherto remained untouched by the digital revolution and have not been able to join the mainstream of the knowledge economy,” the SWAYAM website says.
SWAYAM is a Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) portal that also comes with a mobile application to boost online education in India. The All India Council For Technical Education, an Indian regulatory body, created SWAYAM in 2016 with the goal of combining education courses in one platform accessible to everyone, anywhere and at any time. SWAYAM covers all courses and subjects from class 9 to the post-graduation level through the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL).
SWAYAM courses are free, but students can only obtain a course completion certificate after writing the final exam, which comes at a fee of about $12. Learning on SWAYAM is easy and convenient. Students can learn from the pre-recorded video lectures with subtitles, perform free self-assessment tasks and download free study materials. So far, more than 20 million students have enrolled in SWAYAM and more than 1.5 million students successfully completed their courses.
DIKSHA, short for Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing, is a platform for online education in India functioning in almost every state and union territory. The Indian Ministry of Education launched DIKSHA in September 2017 as a National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) initiative to empower and train teachers in imparting education in creative ways. However, in 2020, the app extended its services to students when the pandemic forced the government to shut down schools and colleges across the country.
The DIKSHA app operates in 36 Indian languages and can be accessed anywhere in the country. It issues free e-textbooks, training courses and virtual lab activities, and also renders access to TV-based classroom lessons. DIKSHA also accommodates students with special needs with the provision of audiobooks, sign language videos and special dictionaries.
E-PG Pathshala is another application fostering online education in India, launched with the objective to provide high-quality online content in 70 subjects. It also provides more than 700 e-books and video lectures for all postgraduate courses through its ebooks portal. Along with this, e-PG Pathshala also hosts online MOOC courses in postgraduate subjects through the portal of SWAYAM.
Operating under the skills and expertise of 3,200 professionals, the app is a virtual library with more than 20,000 e-textbooks and 19,000 videos along with animations, simulations and virtual labs. It also includes quizzes and assignments for creative self-learning. Developed in 2014 under the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology, the University Grants Commission implements this national portal.
Shortcomings in India’s Digital Education System
Every path has its puddle and the system of online education in India also has its own shortcomings. While online education in India became the only source of learning amid the lockdowns during the pandemic, many teachers complained that the online classes alienated students and prevented teachers and students from forming an emotional bond that could only be created in an in-person classroom.
Additionally, according to the Azim Premji University study on “Myths of Online Education” in 2020, almost 60% of children in India do not have access to online learning because of the lack of smartphones, multiple siblings sharing the same phone and lack of internet.
A survey conducted in August 2021 across 15 states and union territories assessed the impact of the pandemic on education in India, revealing a significant tech divide. The survey discloses that 37% of rural poor children did not engage in education at all and only 8% of rural children attended online classes routinely.
The Indian government launched the PM e-Vidya scheme in 2020 with the objective to unify all initiatives related to online education in India, providing access to various online portals all in one place. The scheme aims to benefit 250 million school-going children.
The Indian government has also made sufficient efforts to boost the implementation of the modified BharatNet initiative under which all the government schools and gram panchayats (village councils) in rural areas receive free internet connectivity to decrease the digital divide. The government has allocated more than a trillion rupees, the highest ever allocation, to India’s education sector in the Union Budget 2023-24. It has also planned to set up a national digital library in India to increase access to educational books.
Overall, these government apps look to improve the accessibility and quality of education through online learning.
– Aanchal Mishra