Bridge the divide

Whether it is online or in physical classrooms, education should be made accessible and affordable to all

December 19, 2020 05:30 pm | Updated 05:30 pm IST

All children deserve to go to school.

All children deserve to go to school.

Most school going children are facing many problems in this era of the pandemic. While the privileged have access to resources like the Internet, smartphones and their own rooms, many others face a lack of space, time and money to continue with their studies. With people having lost their jobs, paying school fees has become a problem. The child too is unable to fully comprehend what is taught in online classes and the lack of physical activity has led to a certain level of restlessness, anxiety and depression.

In the case of students from less privileged backgrounds, given the lack of access to the Internet and devices, online classes do not seem to have the same benefit that it does for children from better off families. Azim Premji University’s study, Myths of Online Educations , shows that there is a lack of emotional connect and personal attention. For those who are intelligent and capable of self-study, the online system of teaching-learning may work. But can we rely entirely on a digital classroom connect between teachers and students? I think not.

Even in the case of regular physical classes, there is a divide between privileged students and those from lower-income families. Often, I have noticed that children do not understand what the teacher has taught or are unable to express the correct answer if a wrong fact is mentioned. What can we do to ensure that our children are not left behind? How can we teach them life skills and values?

Let me offer an example. A student was being sent away for failing two years in a row. But what did the school do to ensure that some corrective action was taken after the child failed the first time? What was the reason for the failure? When we do not make an attempt to find out or do some kind of course correction, it is the failure of the teacher, the principal or the board. In this case, the parents came from an uneducated background and accepted this exit as the child’s fate. Today, efforts to use teaching aids like the radio and ensuring that teachers go to rural schools or homes offer some measure of hope.

Blended education

Modern education should be a blend of values and skills that are not just learnt but also put into practice. We make a big deal about a few successes, but what about the vast majority who are probably equally bright? What happens to failures from the top institutes? Does anyone support them unless there is a hue and cry? Our institutions should look to support all their students equally and not just the toppers. The focus should shift from the toppers to those who are not doing so well. This is the area that can lead to a revolution in our country, as a majority falls in this strata. We should be looking to see how we can support them.

It is time to develop an internship model or a shared services centre where all types of talent can be encouraged and developed. For example, it is possible to maintain physical distancing in the open areas of rural India where an on-site model with an open-air gym for physical activity, games, nutritious food, storytelling and other events can be created to offer children a mix of learning and fun.

Today, in the era of the pandemic, the well-off are worrying about their children missing the fun of campus life. On the other hand, a less privileged person is concerned that non-payment of fees may lead to a break in their child’s education. Is it not time that such divisions are done away with and education is made accessible and affordable to all?

Disclaimer:The views expressed in this article are personal.

The writer is is an alumnus of INSEAD and CEO of NKH Foundation.

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