Home >News >India >Digital divide is stark, online education still far from reality: ASER
A student accesses e-learning contents on mobile phones during a class as part of 'Online Education Mobile Library' initiative organised to provide online education to disadvantaged pupils, at a library in Mumbai on October 17, 2020. (Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP) (AFP)
A student accesses e-learning contents on mobile phones during a class as part of 'Online Education Mobile Library' initiative organised to provide online education to disadvantaged pupils, at a library in Mumbai on October 17, 2020. (Photo by Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP) (AFP)

Digital divide is stark, online education still far from reality: ASER

  • States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, MP, and Tripura, who have reported more than 30 percentage points in the proportion of children whose families own a smartphone include
  • There is limited evidence on the extent to which this content is reaching children and the impact it is having on their learning

NEW DELHI : Notwithstanding the huge push, only one third of India’s school children are pursuing online education and a smaller cohort of this 32.5% are doing live online classes, the Annual Status of Education Report showed Wednesday underlining how the digital divide is still wide in the school sector.

While just 11% of all the students enrolled in both private and government schools were using online classes, another 21.5% were using videos or recorded classes. And if you take the government school children alone, then only 8.1% enrolled children were using online classes across the country.

And this despite the smart phone ownership in students household jumping significantly between 2018 and 2020, the ASER report by education non-profit Pratham showed.

“Among enrolled children, more than 60% live in families with at least one smartphone. This proportion has increased enormously in the last two years, from 36.5% to 61.8% among enrolled children. The percentage point increase is similar in households of children enrolled in government and private schools," the report said.

While Indian families have not acquired other assets like TV and vehicle between 2018 and 2020, the smartphone ownership has gone up significantly. For example, the percentage of households where children’s are enrolled in government schools has jumped from 29.6% in 2018 to 56.2% in 2020 and in households where children are in private schools, smartphone ownership has gone up to 74.2% in 2020, its 24 percentage point more than what it was in 2018.

But there are states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Tripura, who have reported more than 30 percentage points in the proportion of children whose families own a smartphone include. It indicates that while a basic digital backbone is getting ready at household level, the country has not developed an eco-system for pushing digital education in a crisis period.

“The government has put a lot of efforts and others have put in efforts but we need to invest more in bettering the digital infrastructure for improving the life and learning of students," said Vineet Nayar, Chairman of Sampark Foundation and a former chief executive of HCL Technologies Ltd. Sampark works in the school education sector.

The report further said though although a lot of digital content has been generated and transmitted to help children continue to learn, there is limited evidence on the extent to which this content is reaching children; whether they are engaging with it; and the impact it is having on their participation and learning.

But there is a good news the policy makers can take comfort in.

At the all India level, there is a small shift towards government schools between 2018 and 2020 September across all grades and among both girls and boys. The proportion of boys enrolled in government schools rose from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020. Similarly, the proportion of girls enrolled in government schools rose from 70% to 73% during the same period. But there is a rider, this could be partially because of economic hardship and private schools in rural India closing down fully post the pandemic, the report said.

Similarly, more than 80% children have textbooks for their current grade. This proportion is higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1%) than in private schools (72.2%). Across states, the proportion of children with textbooks at home falls below 70% in only three states: Rajasthan (60.4%), Telangana (68.1%), and Andhra Pradesh (34.6%).

“Overall, about one third of enrolled children had received some form of learning materials or activities from their teachers during the week preceding the survey. However, there are significant variations by state in children’s receipt of learning materials or activities during the survey period – while over 86% of Punjab students got the learning and activity material during gthe survey period states like Rajasthan (21.5%), Uttar Pradesh (21%), and Bihar (7.7%) being the laggard states in providing learning and activity materials.

“This year is a tragic from student’s point of view. The learning loss is huge and every one both government and private sector will need to work together on a roadmap to deal with this and minimize the loss," said Ashish Dhawan, founder of Central Square Foundation, a venture philanthropy in education sector.

ASER 2020 was conducted in 26 states and 4 Union Territories in September and it reached a total of 52,227 households and 59,251 children in the age group of 5-16 years.

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