Online Education during Pandemic : Exclusion and Increasing Vulnerabilities

বুধবার, জুন ২৪, ২০২০ ১১:১৭ PM | বিভাগ : English


While the Pandemic has created a gripping situation of health crisis, it has shattered the everyday life of common people in numerous ways. We tend to wake up to spine chilling headlines every morning. 'No Smartphone for online classes pushed Bengal student to death', read a local daily.

The hegemonic imposition of online education as an alternate during the Pandemic has not only led to a regressive digital divide, but there are unfathomed alleys of unequal social propensities that must be taken into consideration. The constraining factors are a lot more than just 'Digital Divide'. It is dangerously destabilizing to have a part of the society on the cutting edge of technology while the other half struggles on the bare edge of survival.

Apart from the question of availability of internet, the digital constraints also tend to impact those who have online access but lack skills and literacy to use it. It is a multidimensional phenomena where any type of disparity within the online community promotes social exclusion and tends to increase the ratio of inequality in an already inequitable social structure.

Lack of infrastructural access to laptops and high speed internet is just the tip of the ice berg which has impacted the economically vulnerable groups of the South Asian countries. Online classes have commodified education with laptops, android phones, internet facilities as means where knowledge is an end. This process has accelerated socio economic exclusion in pedagogic learning where a portion of the society which lacks in means have found themselves in a state of alienation.

The demographic indicators influence the propensities of disproportionate availability of high speed internet in rural and sub urban areas. Cable cuts, low connectivity, signal cuts are usual. Though Government data claim that more than 89% of rural India is electrified, there are frequent power cuts for maximum hours of the day which hinders the use of electrical appliances.

Additionally, When an individual is participating in a google classroom, the larger context of the household one is part of, comes into question. The student may belong to rural, urban, low income, high income group. Learning requires a conducive surrounding to think and reflect. This necessity gets compromised while learning through online mode. For example, 3% households in India have one dwelling room. There are students who do not even have one corner of the house to themselves where they can read a book without interruption for more than few minutes. Children cohabiting with abusive parents, noisy siblings, unwell grandparents in a small household are expected to invest most of their times otherwise. Lack of favourable atmosphere for learning creates sense of isolation and mental exhaustion. The feeling of disintegration from the society and lagging behind in the competitive world hampers tender minds who aspire good academic performance.

Furthermore, The digital divide has always been gendered restricting transformational effects of digital technologies to reach women. A survey by Internet and Mobile Association of India 2019 reported that only 28% of rural Indian women had access to internet. In Bangladesh, the GSMA's Mobile Gender Gap of 2020 stated that 33% of men in the country use mobile internet against 16% of women. This gendered digital gap is the highest in Pakistan. In a state of Pandemic where online education is the only scope to learn caters to the highly patriarchal society.

E education has turned out to be a nightmare for students with disabilities. The students with visual, learning and hearing disabilities are not able to access study materials online. Deaf students are not able to access online classes without sign language interpreter. While social distancing is the norm of life during a pandemic, it is difficult for students with disabilities who cannot use technology on their own. Visually impaired children in the school levels are facing greater challenges who can only rely on scanned study material.

Hence, the gap within the digital world has exposed the deep rooted structural imbalance on the basis of demography, gender, disability, economy and so on. The overall dependence of access to knowledge via online services can pose a bigger threat to those at the margin if not addressed at the earliest.


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Swayamsiddha Singhdeo

A Postgraduate in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her Research interest lies in Social issues, Environment and cultural anthropology.