In the recent times, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the educational institutions, especially elementary schools have been shut down for over four months now and classes are being held through the online medium (using the internet). Online education requires two things,
- A gadget (smartphone, tablet or computer)
- A strong, stable and high-speed internet connection
Both of these require money and access to such resources. Since gadgets and internet connection can only be accessed by those who can afford them, the children whose parents cannot afford these or who don’t have access to smartphones, tablets or laptops with internet connection can’t access online education. This means, only wards of those who have a decent and stable income (at least around Rs 20,000 per month) can avail classes through online means. As the poverty line is currently at the monthly income of Rs 2,250, and India has around 22% people living below the poverty line, while in states like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand the tally reaching 45%, a poor child’s fundamental right to education thus stands violated.
This author conducted an independent survey on how online education is widening the gap between students of different socio-economic backgrounds. The author surveyed 181 subjects for this research––parents of children below the age of 14––from different socio-economic backgrounds spread all over the country. The survey didn’t take place in Mizoram and Himachal Pradesh, as well as in the Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Puducherry
The lowest income group in the data range consists of those with a household monthly income below Rs 5,000. The people belonging to this slab are often unable to afford basic necessities for themselves and their families. Out of 181 entries, only nine entries (around 4.9% of the total entries) belong to this income slab and only 22% of the children are attending online classes.
The income slab of Rs 5,000 to Rs 20,000 per month makes 19.8% of the entries (36 entries) out of which 27.77% of children are not attending the online classes. The major problems faced by 61.11% of this slab are, unavailability of gadgets required for online education for all the children (in case of more than one child), increase in fees charged by the schools plus the high rates of internet connection and the cost of gadgets, poor network connection and difficulty in getting used to the online platform of education.
The entries for the income slab of Rs 21,000 to Rs 65,000 per month are around 66.2 % (102 entries). This group has a higher percentage, ie 54.9%, of students who are attending the online classes and the only problem they face is network connectivity. A few entries in the monthly income slab of more than Rs 65,000 also face the same issue. This category has 16 entries (8.8% of total entries).
Apart from the technical problems faced during the online classes, children are also having various physical and mental health issues like:
- Straining of eyes
- Eye rashes
- Redness in eyes
- Worsening of vision
- Increased screen time and screen exposure
- Restricted physical activity at home
- Stress or irritation due to inability to interact and socialise with peer groups
- Stress or irritation due to not interacting face to face with the teacher
- Stress or irritation due to difficulty in getting used to the online platform
- Stress or irritation due to not being able to clear doubts and ask teachers question during the online classes
- Disruption or changes in sleep patterns
- Other health problems arising due to too much exposure to smartphones (96.3% use smartphones for attending online classes)
- Bad posture
In 33% of the cases, both the parents of the children are working because of which, there is no one to monitor or help the students during the online classes and, in most cases, one of the parents has to leave behind their smartphone so that their child can attend the online classes. Apart from this, the parents are also complaining that their children access inappropriate content on the internet and play online games in the name of attending classes or doing online assignments given to them as homework.
Parents are also unfamiliar with the concept of online education and the platforms on which the classes take place. Around 70% of parents are not aware of the online reading material that has been made available free of cost for all students to help them with their studies. Parents, as well as teachers, complain that the online classes are not fruitful because most of the time is spent in resolving technical and network issues and teachers and students are not able to communicate freely during classes.
These observations are only on the basis of the data provided by the people who filled the Google Form that had been released for the survey there are people who don’t have the required means and skills to access and fill the Google forms.
Most of the people don’t have any access to the means required for attending online classes. The families who are just above the poverty line also don’t have access to electronic gadgets or internet connection required for online classes. This means that the children in the age group of 6 to 14 years belonging to this section of the population don’t have access to education at all.
Increase in fees for the poor, the cost of electronic gadgets, internet charges mean that education is no longer free for all the children in the said age group. Hence, it’s right to say that the fundamental right of children, who are unable to attend online classes due to the expenses, has been violated and that online education is in contravention to Article 21A, which is Right to Education, of the Indian Constitution.