SEATTLE, Washington — Since the start of the first COVID-19 lock-down in March, India shut down its schools to prevent the spread of the virus. Due to the disparities between states and villages in India, there remains a wide variety of poverty, which worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. Even in November, classrooms remain shut because many parents are still hesitant in sending their children back to school in the midst of a global pandemic. Because of this, the need for improving online education in India is becoming an important subject of discussion.
Implementing Online Education in India
While select states in India, such as Assam, focused their educational programs toward getting students back into the classrooms, most states in India elected to implement online learning for the 320 million students who are attending 1.5 million schools. A variety of online education services and applications are utilized in India. Asha for Education and CEC-UGC YouTube channel, for example, are currently utilized by select students in India to continue their schooling. Asha for Education is a U.S.-based NGO that promotes social change in India through educating children from underprivileged communities. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Asha for Education provided food relief to communities across India before transitioning to online education projects. According to Asha for Education’s project member Padmanava Sen, one of the issues that need to be addressed for successful online learning is India’s digital divide. Sen informed The Borgen Project, that while Indian citizens can get unlimited “60 GB per month in two or three euros” or “3 to $4 a month” (Interview with Padmanava Sen on November 6th, 2020), the internet services are not available everywhere. In response to the lack of internet and smartphones, Asha for Education created smaller village mini schools in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and other states where 10 to 20 students can distance learn from a teacher in person. The only challenge from these classes is when classes had to be shut down in the towns of Neyveli, Pondhavakkam and Nandhimangalam due to COVID-19 cases.
Regarding online education at schools, Sen told The Borgen Project that “as long as the contents are in the local language, and they are taught how to use this content, I think this can do a revolution in the sense of access to quality material.” (Interview with Padmanava Sen on November 6th, 2020). West Bengal, for instance, recently made the decision to move school re-openings to November with a focus on online learning. While some schools are considering the possibility of reopening in person, video chat services and WhatsApp remain important tools in improving online education in India.
How will online education in India benefit or help alleviate poverty?
Since online education in India has been planned to be implemented with government support, there have been several forms of teacher employment opportunities that were promoted recently. While the education system and poverty alleviation remain separate processes, online education can provide students with an opportunity to continue their education and learn work skills while they are out of school during the current pandemic. Sen informed The Borgen Project that online education could help children of Indian farmers bridge a gap in their schooling for two or three months as “these situations can be easily handled with digital education.” (Interview with Padmanava Sen on November 6th, 2020). The partnerships of child sponsorship programs from Asha for Education to SOS Children’s Villages India allowed children to receive learning materials online and other means for rural villages. Asha for Education developed a computer application in Chennai known as Asha Kanini, which presents lessons and classroom activities about English, math, science and other subjects to help teachers deliver their lessons in an online school. A major increase in demand for online teaching and tutoring jobs provided a way for instructors to stay employed during COVID-19. As of September 4th, 2020, Avanse Financial Services also offered an opportunity loan program for students who pursue teacher training courses or forms of higher education to look into the future of India’s education.
How Long will Online Education Last in India?
Online education has been implemented across India for a while as non-profit organizations such as eVidyaloka worked to promote digital classrooms with volunteer instructors for rural villages since 2011. Ever since the impact of COVID-19 became apparent in India, a variety of programs that aimed to improve online education in India were quickly initiated. Many schools in India are scheduled to remain online or a hybrid teaching. States such as Gujarat agree to only open elementary schools after COVID-19. As some students cannot access internet services in India, a program from the Kerala State Education Department known as the ‘First Bell’ Initiative broadcasted over 600 classes across “the ‘KITE Victers’ television channel” since June 2020. Colleges in India also implemented the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which started with 100 universities converting to online courses while allowing college degrees from global universities to be accepted in India.
The Future of Education
Providing online education to children in India continues despite challenges due to the digital divide across villages in India. As plans for select schools reopening in person continues, opportunities for teachers to host online education and small in-person courses helped to keep teachers employed across India. The improved online education system even promoted India’s children to pursue higher education or teacher training courses, which promotes the spread of India’s education system across the country.
Attribution: Nevil Zaveri