With the launching of PMeVidya programme for multi-mode digital online education, this anti-people government once again decided to widen the already existing inequality in education. Online technology-driven education for whom? Which purpose is it going to serve and why is the government giving stress on online education at the last phase of lockdown as it is sensed?
When other countries are being ready to come out from lockdown and adopting new measures to restart educational institutions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is pushing for online classes. Quite surprisingly, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced PMeVidya amid her hollow stimulus package announcement. It’s not clear whether India still has a Union human resource development (HRD) minister, who is supposed to take comprehensive measures to restart educational institutions in the post-COVID-19 stage? If there is an HRD minister, then why did Sitharaman announce this PMeVidya commencement with much hullaballoo? It sets the right tone for the announcement and that is to facilitate online start-ups to engulf the last vestiges of public education to profiteer from them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has crashed on us with multi-dimensional aspects of reality. When millions of children are walking to reach home jeopardising their lives in the process, the wards of the privileged nonchalant classes are sitting in their study rooms with a laptop to attend their online classes. Fair enough, according to Sitharaman, PMeVidya is a multi-mode learning portal and will provide one earmarked TV channel for each standard, from first to twelfth, but is she unaware that India has an immense inequality in accessing TV, electricity, computer, laptop or other much-needed gadgets and accessories to participate in online education. Then for whom is this online education programme? The answer is, for the privileged haves.
Digital inequality is a prominent fact in India. Even at present, many Indians don’t have 24×7 electric supply in their homes. According to Mission Antyodaya, a nationwide survey of villages conducted by the ministry of rural development (2017-2018), showed that 15.84% of rural households received one to eight hours of electricity, 32.56% received nine to 12 hours and only 47.26% of households received electricity for more than 12 hours a day. Moreover, only 8% of the students can avail online education! In such a scenario, how the Modi regime is pushing online education system?
If it is only for the COVID-19-induced situation, then why it’s announced at the end of the lockdown? Why there is no concrete thought about the post-lockdown reopening of educational institutions? Is it then only for the privileged classes? What about those students and teachers who neither have access to any means of access to TV, internet or mobile phones nor have the necessary training for this unilateral, one-way system of education? Has the ministry taken into account the diversity of our existing educational systems with so many state boards in operation? Has the Union government discussed the proposal with the states? How many textbooks are QR coded and if so, how many students and teachers have smartphones with cameras to utilise the Diksha app? When does the central government care for the federalism of India?
According to the National Sample Survey (2017-2018) report on education, only 24% of Indian households have an internet facility while 66% of Indian population lives in villages, only 15% of rural households have access to internet services. For urban households, the proportion is 42%. This stark inequality is more prominent in the gender backdrop. Only 8% of all households with members aged between 5-24 years have both computer and internet connection. Against this backdrop pushing for online education will further deepen the existing inequality and deprive the economically weaker classes of the light of education.
Capitalising upon this fair weather, the online education industry will intensify its attempt to seize control of the education sector, by even commodifying school education. Such commercialisation of education – a long-cherished dream of the big capital – will finally complete the love circle. Recently, Nitin Gadkari, another Union minister whose ministry has no connection with education, lured big crony-comprador capitalists to invest in India’s online education platforms.
The media and the government, going gaga about the online education system are not in a mood to consider its drawbacks or maybe they are doing this for their interests.
Unemployed parents, rising violence against children, lack of space in the houses, no food, mental stress due to punitive lockdown, etc, will make it harder for the children to hang on to the flow of education. Reverse migration has snapped the dreams of poor parents to give their children a quality education. The severity of the situations will be clear in the next few months. While all these are happening, the Modi government, living in an echo chamber sans any knowledge of the ground situation at all, is talking about online education or learning through TV channels.
Does every child have a home to watch TV channels or listen to the radio? When the concern should be how to make the children of all standards return to their schools and make the government schools well equipped to fight against COVID-19, the government is, as usual, coming with a top-down readymade approach, completely disowning the children from the economically and socially-vulnerable classes.
While talking about PMeVidya online education platform, Sitharaman said that the mantra of this project will be “one nation, one digital platform.” This makes the Hindutva fascist government’s agenda clearer. Why is it not “one nation, many digital platforms”, which might more appropriately represent the diversity of our educational system? Why is everything, from COVID-19 relief fund to the online education platform, named after the prime minister? To appease the megalomaniac dictator’s ego? If there is one thing that increased manifold during the COVID-19 pandemic, then it’s this cult worship of the narcissist prime minister.
Some of the higher educational institutions are also against this online method of functioning. A survey by the Delhi University of Teachers Association clearly stated that over 85% of students don’t want online open-book examinations (Hindustan Times, May 27th 2020).
All we need is a detailed thorough analysis and understanding of the present situation aroused due to the COVID-19 and super cyclone Amphan and its impact on educational institutions and learners and come up with an inclusive and advanced education system that’s both technology and human-driven and focused on students’. There is no need for an exaggerated self-aggrandising, exclusive online system, where the children of the privileged classes will be able to avail education and the poor children will march on the roads, along with their parents, to escape imminent starvation death. This indifferent, anti-poor, Hindutva fascist Modi regime can’t be allowed to disown India’s children and push for total commercialisation of education. It’s an opportunity to invest more for education and restore people’s faith in the public education system. The students and the teachers – the two nuclei of educational institutions –should be provided with more resources to fight both COVID-19 and the rising inequality.
Moumita Alam is a non-conformist. She writes about the exploitation of the marginalised. As a teacher and a poet, her pen flares up against all forms of oppression. She loves to read when not writing and she thinks critically about the socio-political aspects of life. Keen to change the society to an egalitarian one for the present have-nots.