As COVID-19 continues to spread in India, the government issued, nationwide lockdown remains in place. That being said, India, like many other nations around the world, had to switch their students to online school. The high poverty rates in India have made the transition difficult for some. The upper and middle-class citizens have the resources to effectively make the transition. However, those living in, or close to the poverty line, find it difficult to make the switch. Only about a third of the nation has access to the online school curriculum. Most poor communities don’t have access to computers, tablets, or even smartphones. Because of this, children and teenagers in these communities can’t get the materials they need in order to continue their education. To allow their children to keep up with academics, families had to purchase expensive technology, which they do not know how to use. Because of the lockdown, most families don’t have a stable source of income, thus purchasing expensive products becomes difficult. Families can find the transition even more difficult to manage because they have trouble communicating with their children’s schools and teachers.

What Are Poor Communities Doing to Support Education?  

As India switches to online school, poorer communities are trying their best to stay in touch with schools and teachers in order to support the education of their children. Many families are allowing children to use the only smartphone they have in the house so that the children can continue to learn online. With only one phone in the house, getting a quality education becomes difficult, especially if the family has more than one child. Families that do not have smartphones have been going to neighbors’ houses and asking to use their phones, in order to keep their children in school. 

While families are managing education through the use of smartphones, their children are not getting the same quality of education as they were in person. Many children have complained about experiencing stressed eyes, while others have complained that, while they are getting their work done, they are not learning.

What Are Schools and Teachers Doing? 

Schools and teachers are trying their best to help support the children during their transition to online school. Many institutions are developing online apps and allowing students to use them for free. However, despite the apps being free, without access to service, it becomes difficult for students to use them. Many families in India lack proper electricity and internet services, which prevent them from attending their learning sessions. To address barriers like this, a school in New Delhi distributed phones to students who came from poorer communities, so that they could access daily lessons. 

Many schools are also starting WhatsApp chat groups so that students can stay up to date and get their work done with all the help they need. Teachers are also sharing lessons through WhatsApp so that children who can’t make it to the online session can learn from those. Yet, with poor Internet and restrictions on the number of people allowed to congregate in a group, it is hard for students to access their daily lessons. Many students and families are not familiar with how to use the apps and other online resources, thus they can’t join the digital learning sessions. 

What is the Government Doing? 

In order to assist students in poorer communities, the Indian government has taken several steps to ensure that the transition to online learning does not negatively impact the education of students throughout the nation. Due to the increase in students attending colleges, the Indian government has decided that students can get online degrees. Typically, upper and upper-middle-class citizens have the money to attend college; however, this will allow students from poor communities to stay at home and assist the family, while also working towards a degree. That being said, it can be difficult for these citizens to get a degree through a phone. 

The government is also keeping the public updated about the initiatives ministers are taking in order to support the students. The initiatives include online courses for teachers to help them provide a better learning experience as well as non-technology courses to support students who don’t have instant access to technological equipment. The Indian government has also taken other initiatives in order to strengthen the online education system to make sure the quality of education stays up to date without affecting the costs.

While these initiatives have done a lot to support students from poorer communities in their transition to online school, a lot more can be done. The government is requesting organizations to develop computers that students can temporarily borrow. The Indian government is also planning to provide 5G services in areas with poor quality internet service, which will allow students in those places to get the quality education they need. With the proper policies and initiatives in place, students coming from a poor community may not only get a proper education but also use that education to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. 

 – Krishna Panchal
Photo: Pixabay

internet access in IndiaIndia is a heavily populated country with over one billion citizens. Many of these people are living in extreme poverty, lacking both life-sustaining basic needs and other more modern necessities. Among these inadequacies is the connectedness through the World Wide Web. With a national GDP of USD 2,000 in 2017, the internet access in India is hard for many to obtain. Though India is the second largest online market in the world, roughly 75 percent of the population is offline. Furthermore, 71 percent of internet users are men, which means that less than 30 percent are women.

Problem background

Across the nation, urban and rural areas are lacking internet access in India and here is a quick look into why this void exists.

  • Poor infrastructure: cables and/or fibers have yet to be installed in many undeveloped and poorly developed areas, especially low-income ones.
  • Purchasing electronic devices to access the internet is not a basic need for people in extreme poverty.
  • The absence of IT education prevents citizens from the desire for internet access.
  • Gender inequality prevents women from using the web since to assure they will not be tempted to stray from cultural norms and expectations.
  • Net neutrality: in all of India, there was a total of 174 internet shutdowns in the six years up to mid-2018.

Why does it matter

As previously stated, there are over a billion people in India. Today’s world is mostly connected to the internet and those without access are being left behind which represents a huge disadvantage. With 75 percent of a billion people in one geographical location left unconnected, there is a huge untapped market that India and the rest of the world are being deprived of. In 2016, the U.S. gained 16 billion dollars from India’s digital buyer market. If more people had internet access in India, it is likely the economy would grow and poverty would decrease, resulting in improved international relationships as well.

The solution

Fortunately, the movement to provide more citizens with internet access in India is in motion. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is reducing the internet shutdowns that happen due to net neutrality thanks to the influence of the Telecommunication Regulation Authority of India (TRAI). The Government of India is making progress in providing access to more Indian citizens and is partnering with independent partners such as BharatNet is enhancing the internet infrastructure. India Accelerator is another organization doing the groundwork to raise funds for many internet start-up companies which encourages entrepreneurship.

Internet future in India

Moving forward, facts above mostly mean a brighter future for India in internet access. As the DoT and the TRAI work together to prevent unfair blocks to internet access in India, internet freedom is becoming a reality for many formerly oppressed people. According to Inc42 Media, India has a 50 billion dollars potential online commerce market. When millions of people gain access to this market backed by empowerment and funding, this has a power to change India economy in a positive direction. By launching new companies, creating more income and more jobs, the GDP will rise, significantly lowering the poverty rates and creating a more sustainable and stable India.

India currently lacks the power to provide its citizens with the means to send and receive electronic data, something many would consider a basic human right in today’s world. This is coming to an end as internet access in India is becoming a priority for the Government and for the people.

– Heather Marie Benton
Photo: Flickr