Digital Learning: Access and Scope in Rural India

Ananya’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust. 

According to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “India has its largest ever adolescent and youth population. India will continue to have one of the youngest populations in the world till 2030. India is experiencing a demographic window of opportunity, a “youth bulge” that will last till 2025.”

India has made a robust internet revolution from last year. With the onset of cheap internet connections, it has created accessibility towards digitization. This has accelerated the growth of e-learning spaces. In the era of digitization and smartphones, digital learning has emerged as an vacuum filler.

Digital literacy is welcomed by all age groups of people. It has a vast array of knowledge and content, which can connect the students from schools to youths working. Usage of this new techniques is benefiting the teachers, educators, instructors, trainers and so on. In the era of digitization and smart technology, digital learning will act as a breakthrough to know the present world of digitization. It can play a vital role to strengthen youth to cope with the competition.

Starting from food to travel, most of our payments are made digitized. For this not only the children but our older generation has to be friendly towards technology. Slowly we are stepping towards a new world. At this time, we need to be ready for every change. Considering the new trend, digital learning can prove as an eye-opener. It can impact all sphere of the life, for the students in the schools, youths in the universities, and one who is working, one who is passionate about her startup. It can create an impact without any limitations.

Usefulness of Digital Learning

Digital learning is trying to bridge the gap between education and employment. Through the approaches of building 21st-century skills, the scope of digital life-skill learning has developed. The area of critical understanding could be well explored through this medium. Followed by English learning, career counseling can be provided under digital learning. Through this medium, it will reach the youth groups without a limit. Application-based learning has also encouraged youth. If we consider the age group of 15-25 years, they are most vibrant in digital learning. It also includes employability skills. These are the combination of knowledge, attitude, and skills which will make a person employable as well as contribute to the performance and growth in their profession. The employment skills course will help a person develop skills that are necessary to successfully perform in a workplace.

How to Create Digital Learning Spaces

Digital learning spaces are a question of accessibility. Even questions like: do students have their own mobile phones or do they use the computers/mobile phones at schools? Why don’t they have mobile phones? Are phones too expensive or do their parents not see the value in this technology? How to get them connected to the internet? These questions still remain. The exposure to digital learning spaces can be done right from the school. The children in the school are more curious about the digital tool-kits and thereby learning from it. They can be easily adaptive, thus the schools can be taken as a venture of creating digital learning spaces. Availability of internet is also required and it creates a possible solution.

Stake of the State

The Government of India is also playing a pivotal role in bringing revolution in the country. The union budget allocation of the financial year 2018-19 for the digital education under the ministry of Human Resource Development was Rs. 85,010 crores. (Prashant K. Nand, Livemint, Feb. 2018)

Around 1.5 lakh secondary or secondary schools across the country will have digital and interactive boards from 2019 academic session. E-content and intelligent tutor will also be introduced under the new scheme operation digital board (ODB) to supplement traditional learning. (Education desk, Indian Express, Feb. 2019)

Discussion

Going through the data sets, we can realize the massive scope of digital learning in India. Digital and e-learning are the platforms which can connect people, share information, and thereby build a global community. Now the concern remains with the proper usage of internet sites. Segregating the internet sites among the e-learning, YouTube video, and e-commerce like Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal, and social media like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc.; we can assume the maximum usage. All the sites have both their advantages and disadvantages; the point is how well we can steer children and youth to get benefits out of them. Sites like YouTube videos can used be to find learning on a subject, find craft-making videos for making projects, prepare for competitive exams and so on. But of course it also has huge recreational features in it.

Among the 996 public schools in Samastipur, Bihar, only 27 have digital learning kits. The digital learning kit includes a set of LCD television, an internet device, and a digital offline content device. This entire setup is running with solar power implanted in the school. The digital contents are already fed into the device so it does not need an internet connection. But we can use the LCD screen for connecting to the internet, with the help of an internet device or wireless network connection. The digital content is summed up with subject matter from mathematics, experiment in physics and chemistry, English and social studies.

The initiation of digital learning spaces has created an opportunity for students in rural areas to get acquainted with the tool kits. The attendance level in schools have increased. The students are encouraged to stay back in the school for the digital classes. In some schools, the digital kits are being used as a substitute for the teachers. The digital learning is providing an exposure to not only the students but also the teachers. According to the teachers, they are also reviving their teaching techniques. The digital kits are acting as a support for the teacher. The last hours of the schools are often boring. It is a grave problem to hold attention of the students in the class. But the digital learning is acting as a miracle.

Today, whether it is finding a new word on Google, or watching a photography video, without realizing it, we are already using the internet to constantly learn. A major chunk of learning is already happening on the internet, with the government’s push we can expect it to grow to exponential levels. (Roman Sahani, 2018)

Looking into the matter of accessibility of digital learning, there are only a few schools who can now avail it. The dependency of the digital learning still remain on the non-profits and corporate social responsibility initiatives. Few organizations are introducing students of public schools to digital learning. They are engaged with the government institutes to create digital learning spaces.

Few initiatives like Barefoot College in Rajasthan have installed solar projectors in rural formal and night schools. Historically, Barefoot College has always communicated the powerful message of girls’ education through puppet shows and street theater attended by hundreds throughout the night; now they are using the solar projectors. Similarly, SELCO India is trying create a digital learning space in the lower income schools through setting up of solar power units in schools. These are connected with an LCD screen, digital contents, and an internet device. It is not only solving the crunch of power cuts and electric supply in the rural schools of Bihar, but also initiating a hope among the teachers and students.

Gender Perspective

Throwing light unto the perspective of gender distribution is important. Internet usage in India is men dominating with 71 percent to women’s 29 percent (Source: Statista, the Statistic Portal). Again it brings the question of accessibility. A decade ago when there was only one phone in one family, the women of the family did not catch attention for handling the phone. This created an unknown distance from internet access or smartphones. Even there was fear of handling smartphones that something may go wrong. Rather sitting on computers to surf on the internet was a rare view. Internet accessibility was also a concern for a large population. But with the emergence low-cost internet and 4G mobile phones, it may be possible to bridge the distance.

Among the 996 government schools in the Samastipur district of Bihar, there are more girls than boys. Thus it could be a magnificent scope to engage the girls towards digital learning. Flagship of digital learning from the public schools can act as a new beginning of this era. It will involve more girls and women. In the youth points of rural Bihar, there is more concentration of girls and women. The young, married women identify these youth resource centers as a place of freedom, sharing, and a break from her daily routine. They are more curious to know new things and magic laying in the smartphone. These peer learning activities would act as beneficial for them to participate in the digital space.

Thinking Beyond

The curriculum in digital learning will become more standardized and uniform. There will be more centralized way of education. However, this may also lose the uniqueness of the teaching style. India is a developing nation that’s encouraging “to heat the iron when it is hot.” We can channelize our resources and opportunities in a well-planned way. There are scopes for better utilization of youth power. Equal access to digital learning among youth and children can bring on a revolution. Easy connect and network building will enrich the young minds more quickly.

There were about 195 million Facebook users in India as 2016, placing India as the country with the largest Facebook user base in the world. Other popular networks include WhatsApp, Google+, and Skype. (Source: Statista, the Statistic Portal)

Thus, depending upon these vast ranges of users among the social media platforms, Facebook can be experimented with as a digital learning space. Nevertheless, India has a massive number of users of WhatsApp. This is not only used to communicate in text messages but it is emerging as an information sharing platform. The crisp digital content on any subject can capture a wide range of people. It could be seen as a scope of digital learning platform depending upon the accessibility. While discussing the accessibility of digital education, we have to work towards reducing inequalities.

Going beyond the digitization and technology, people are moving away from the human touch. Youth are not engaging themselves in physical activities as they do in conversation and discussion with peers. Text messages are becoming more preferable than a phone call. Even though there are plenty of emojis, sometimes they fail to express the actual feeling. The virtual reality is grabbing the population to a next level of comfort zone. There are many opportunities for digital technology, but there are also risks that must be mitigated. That is why educating teachers and students about the technology is important.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” – quote attributed to Albert Einstein.

While Einstein’s words may have been intended in good humor, they aptly reflect the fact that effective education is, indeed, constant and always evolving. In fact, the face of education has experienced a sea change over the decades. Once characterized by the traditional classroom model, education today has metamorphosed into learning that is instant, online, self-driven, and on the go. The journey of education in India, too, has been dotted with innumerable milestones—most recently, digital learning.

India is the home to youngest people of this world. Thus, the fundamental of digital learning should be based on accessibility, standardized content and diversified ground. It should not come like a half-baked cake.       


References:

Ananya strongly believes in story-telling and capacity of an individual to share their own story to create change. Through her fellowship with Quest Alliance in Samastipur, Bihar she is trying to capture the stories of change and creating platform to share the same. William J. Clinton Fellowship has provided her an opportunity to explore her creative ideas and skills. She is proud to pursue her fellowship with Quest Alliance. She has completed her post-graduation in Masters of Social Work from Visva-Bharati, India. She flagged her professional career with Pratham, focusing on the education of children of Tea Tribes in North-eastern India. Moving towards central India she has worked in Ekjut with Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (formerly known as Primitive Tribal Groups) of Jharkhand state, for ensuring their nutrition and food security. She is a selected change maker of Change.org campaigning for Universalization of Maternity Entitlement for all women. She enjoys singing and music, especially playing guitar.

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