The pandemic has forced the school education in the State to go online. The State government has been conducting virtual classes through Skype, Cisco, Teamlink, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams. For the students who don’t have access to the online facility, videos were uploaded on YouTube and links were shared with the students. Efforts were made to send the notes via Whatsapp and Email to the students. Lessons were also conducted through Doordarshan and Radio broadcast.
While the government had made efforts to shift the learning from traditional to digital avenues, one doesn’t help but question the accessibility of virtual learning in the State. The digital education mandates owning a personal computer, laptops, or smartphone with a functional net connection which is a luxury for many households in the State.
Though online education engaged the students during the lockdown period, it also increased the digital divide among the students. According to the study ‘Scenario amidst COVID 19 – Onground situations and possible solutions’ conducted by the child rights NGO Smile Foundation it was found that 56.01 per cent of the children don’t have access to the smartphones. In comparison, 31.01 per cent of the children don’t have access to the TV.
While the majority of the students are away from the TV and smartphones, we must understand the situation and come up with innovative solutions to provide quality education for the children. The learnings of the visually handicapped were severely affected as they were suddenly introduced to digital schooling without any prior coaching. The online training brought new problems as several students complain about the eyes and ear pain because of the prolonged usage of smartphones.
The newly introduced National Education Policy 2020 also stresses the importance of bridging the digital divide while even acknowledging its potential risks and dangers. The policy also suggests coming up with the alternate modes of learnings when the traditional and in-person modes of education are not possible.
AP Chief Minister announced that schools would be opened from 5th September 2020 if the situation gets better. Given the rapid increase in the number of cases, it is unsure if the schools would be reopened in the aforementioned time. The current situation undoubtedly altered the education system in the State. Keeping it in mind, the government should come up with a comprehensive strategy anticipating the challenges and invest in the innovations in the education system to bridge the digital divide in the State.