Students with disabilities, those from underprivileged households and women left out of online learning during pandemic

The half-baked approach by the education department has left out most of the children from access to education during the lockdown


The travails of the lockdown have come for many in many forms. During this time, the foundation of our society – education, has taken a backseat and taken a severe hit. With educational institutions shutting doors due to the pandemic, with no knowledge of when they will be safe to reopen, the futures of millions of children are at stake.

Children from marginalized sections of society

The pandemic has exposed various problems with the education system. The socio-economic digital divide being the starkest of the gamut. A recent incident of a Standard 9 student belonging to the scheduled caste community allegedly committing suicide due to not being able to attend online classes shook was proof of that. The 14-year-old, a resident of Kerala’s Malappuram, allegedly set herself ablaze on June 1. Her family didn’t have any access to the facilities needed for digital education – neither a functioning TV, nor a mobile phone with internet.

In Kerala, the KITE Victers channel has been broadcasting lessons on television through cable and online as well under the project ‘First Bell’. However, a survey by the General Education Department found out that out of the data recorded from over 43.76 lakh students in the state government schools, more than 2.6 lakh students had no provisions for online classes, reported SheThePeople.

With an incident like this and the evidence of millions of other marginalized children left without access to education, it is apparent that the government doesn’t have a wholesome understanding of the demography of its own residents and is only adept at issuing orders without checking for ground reality.

Only after a child lost her life, did the Kerala government decide to take corrective measures. In Ernakulam, six anganwadis threw open their doors to students from financially weaker sections of society to help them attend online classes, reported The New Indian Express (TNIE). Maya Lakshmi, district project officer, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) told TNIE, “Since the Malappuram incident on Monday, six anganwadis in the district have been opened up to help students gain access to online classes. The anganwadis are made available as per the request of the ward members. At present, the centres are all closed since classes for the little ones can’t be held until further notice. Hence, they can be used to conduct online classes for students who don’t have access to the same at their homes.”

In Kochi, under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, pending a final nod from education department officials and local government officials, anganwadis and libraries are set to turn into classrooms for students who have no access to TV, computers and smartphones, reported Mathrubhumi.

However, with different states adopting one channel to disseminate information, there is no plan on how they will strive to address the diversity of languages.

The All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) how the move towards digital education was only going to widen the gap between the affluent and the marginalized, apart from creating a profitable edu-market for corporate producers of digital technology.

Apart from not having access to television or internet access, the psychological and physical environment for children from marginalized sections of society is rarely conducive to their growth. Living in homes with bare necessities, higher responsibilities and large families, it is difficult for students to concentrate on their studies if they do manage to get access to online classes.

While the current online education module, puts the onus on parents to ensure the learning of children, but children from backwards sections of society have nobody to aid their learning. Also, not all content is issued in regional languages which makes the problems more complex for both, parents and children. With no access to guidance, where are these students to go?

Children with disabilities

However, while these efforts take place on a micro level, at the macro level, scores of children, especially with disabilities and special needs are not even being thought of. As per the 2019 State of Education Report for India: Children with Disabilities, there are 7,864,636 children with disabilities in India. Out of these, 61 percent aged between 5 and 19 were attending educational institutions. The Wire reported that a study by the Javed Abidi Foundation which studied the responses of several students to the order of operating online classes, showed that, in particular, students with visual disabilities weren’t able to access the study material and classes. If they did, it was with the help of family members. Students with hearing difficulties couldn’t access the classes at all as there were no sign language interpreters during the video calls. There were no transcripts or subtitles to help them learn too.

Gender divide

UNESCO showed that out of the 320,713,810 learners affected due to school closures in India, 158,158,233 were females. A study by McKinsey in 2018 had reported that unpaid care work was one of the biggest contributors to the gender gap in secondary school completion, with girls who did two hours of housework per day having a 63% probability of completing secondary school against that of 84% for boys.

A report by Internet and Mobile Association of India and Neilsen in 2019 points out that the female internet population in India is half of the 258 million male internet population. All over India, 67 percent of males have access to the internet as opposed to 33 percent females. In rural areas, 72 percent males have access to the internet as against 28 percent females. In urban areas, only 38 percent females have access to the internet as opposed to 62 percent males.

In India, for women, especially from the weaker sections of society, schools aren’t just grounds for learning, but also a means for nutrition and health and hygiene. A report by News 18 showed that experts estimated that after the closures caused by the pandemic, girls from disadvantaged families might lose 50 percent of their total years of education and remain in the thick of being pushed in child labour and early marriage.

It is evident that online learning is neither a sustainable nor a long-term answer to the pandemic. With evidences and research of the glaring insufficient digital infrastructure, the digital divide, the gender gap and the insufficiency in teaching methodologies, will the government wake up to create a more wholesome approach or will it continue to let the marginalized sections move away further to the periphery?


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



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