E-learning is corporate driven; not the way to go during lockdown and after

AIFRTE says GOI is only dictating and not taking insights from stakeholders involved in e-learning


The global crisis of the coronavirus called for a lockdown, disrupting the well-oiled machine life once looked like. From businesses to schools, everything took a hit. However, with the internet in picture, most big businesses moved online and most schools moved to ed-tech.

To maintain the academic momentum that was so suddenly disrupted and remains to be so indefinitely, schools and colleges moved towards technology and started engaging students in online learning. However, not all is rosy about this arrangement. The All India Forum for Right to Education (AIRFTE), an organization which is works on the premise that the aim of education is to build a democratic, socialist and secular society based on diversity, plurality and equality has issued a press statement saying that e-learning is no substitute for classroom interaction and that the decision will only create a profitable edu-market for corporate producers of digital technology and gadgets.

Not everyone has access to the internet

While online learning has its pros – reduced classroom hours, opportunity of one to one feedback, availability of options like accessing recorded lectures, usage of artificial intelligence and machine learning to modify teaching methods among others, the basic issue with the idea is that given India’s diverse student population, the majority of whom are already disempowered to a great extent by discrimination on the basis of caste, income, gender, religion, linguistic, tribal, regional and disability criteria, will be further pushed to the sidelines.

The spending on education in India is abysmal. Apart from this, different states have a different percentage of people with access to the internet. According to the 75th report of the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) 2017 – 18, the all India percentage of households having internet facilities is at 23.8 percent with rural availability at 14.9 percent and urban at 42 percent.

Onus shifted to individual and parents

The AIFRTE says that e-learnings as an alternative to classroom learning, shifts the entire burden of education on the individual. It says, “It is part of the project for commercialization of education and drastic cutting of government funds for education. The government is now free to collaborate with the corporate sector, winning kudos from them on the one hand for not investing public funds in a national system of education, and on the other for creating a profitable edu-market for corporate producers of digital technology and gadgets. The homogenization of learning, and indeed of knowledge itself, is a global feature of the commercialization of education. This increases profit-taking for investors, but cognitive interest is blunted. A tedious conformism in thinking diminishes creativity and discourages change.”

Also, due to the new guidelines, the parents have to take higher responsibility to educate their wards. The NCERT guidelines issued by the Education Department involve tasks that consist of methods to improve analytical and logical reasoning of the students which have to be carried out with active involvement of parents. However, as per the NSSO survey, the numbers how that 26.1 percent of the population above 15 years of age is ‘not literate’. It says that 18.9 percent have attended formal education up until primary school, 16.2 percent each have attended middle class and secondary – until Class VIII. This makes up for 77.4 percent of the total population of India which may not have adequate level of education required to teach children at home. This number is even dire in rural areas, where 69.9 percent of the population falls in the spectrum of being ‘not-literate’ to ‘middle school’.

High dependence on social media

Currently, according to the UGC document issued for guidelines to be followed by students and teachers during the lockdown, 25 percent of the academic workload has been directed to be handled online. The UGC document recognizes that both facilities and training for use of digital technologies even among university faculties and students are largely absent but it finds a silver lining in the Covid-19 lock-down “The Committee is of the view that the faculty has devoted and is devoting a substantial amount of time which they usually do to answer questions during lectures, group work, discussions, etc. They have achieved the desired objectives by using one or more of the tools such as WhatsApp groups, emails and social media platforms. Actually providing feedback on work submitted electronically by students also counts as a form of substantive interaction.  Therefore, such interaction, during this tough time of Corona pandemic, counts for active attendance.”

It almost seems lazy that the government is relying on existing social media platforms to promote e-learning, instead of developing e-learning into a meaningful supplementary to a formal national system of education from pre-nursery right up to the research level.

AIFRTE abhors the new modes being campaigned for by the government. It says, “Distance teaching-learning and evaluation in virtual modes are being campaigned for by governmental as well as private institutions at school, college, and university level. All regulatory authorities like the provincial Directorates/Departments of School Education and the UGC etc., have become a means to thrust this corporate driven agenda onto an unwilling, unprepared and misinformed community of students and teachers. Let us be clear that what is now claimed to be `universalized’ is not ‘education’ but only an empty promise of uninterrupted access to the brave new world of the Internet.”

The AIFRTE asks, “Why is the GOI not encouraging the creative pursuit of more appropriate solutions like internal assessments, and assignments and projects which can be designed during the lockdown period and engaged in by students and teachers collectively once schools/universities re-open even in a phased manner?”

It states that doing so would certainly provide all students with more equal opportunities to both cover their subject matter and reduce the individual level of anxiety and stress particularly among the majority of students living under diverse home conditions that are frequently unsuitable for self-study and who invariably lack sufficient access to or experience with computers or smart phones.

Providing access to the internet for e-learning and depending on it completely can also put data of users in danger – the data of students and teachers is completely owned by authorities and they can be bound in a surveillance system. This takes away the security of being able to discuss issues – political and otherwise in an otherwise physical classroom with no eyes watching. The same could also be misused by some children without parental vigilance for purposes apart from learning.

Only dictating, not taking insights

The AIFRTE states that in issuing such guidelines, the government of India is only dictating to the teaching community and not taking their insights and views to tackle the crisis, especially when they have real life experiences drawn from daily activities of teaching, just like it did with District Primary Education Program (DPEP) and Sarva Shikshan Abhiyan (SSA) without taking the insights of states into consideration.

AIFRTE says, “GOI is using the Covid-19 crisis to push ahead with its policy of promoting `e-learning’ as an alternative to the strenuous but necessary task of redesigning, strengthening and expanding the present crisis-ridden formal education system from pre-school up to post-graduation and research. The latter demands well-directed and adequate public investment, sound policy – making and democratic participation of students, teachers, administrators and communities.”

It is a proven fact that e-learning cannot conquer physical learning for it can never provide the comfort of collective participation and interaction. There is already a discriminatory system in place with students fighting for quality education while battling fee-hikes.

Electricity, money, academic curriculum, internet connectivity and socio-economic background are just the basic requirements of e-learning which not every household can fulfil.

In its press statement, the AIFRTE concludes, “A new pedagogical and political culture of silent acceptance and obedience to authority is intended to be advocated and put into operation by the further dilution of the content of education and the dismantling of the structure of an already weakened educational system. Giving primacy to technology in this way will of course lead to a form of communication of information to `individuals’ and `groups’ that are brought together by `invitation’. However, it will as a result discredit questioning and criticality and the creativity of collective learning for social transformation.”

The entire statement by AIFRTE may be read below.


U’khand HC: Children with no internet access cannot be forced to pay tuition fee

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(Sources – The Wire, The Himalayan Times)



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