Coronavirus | Amid lockdown, Bihar plans education through mobile app, radio broadcast

However, research flags digital divide and socio-economic inequalities in the State

April 12, 2020 10:35 pm | Updated October 08, 2020 06:17 pm IST - PATNA

Following COVID-19 lockdown, the Bihar Education Project Council (BEPC) has launched a mobile application and plans to book a slot with the All India Radio for the audio broadcast of study materials for government school students. However, an independent research by an alumna of the London School of Economics has flagged some fundamental challenges in the process as the State has huge digital divide and socio-economic inequalities.

Also read: Coronavirus | Migrant workers slip out of Bihar quarantine centres at night, return by day

In Bihar, like other States, schools and colleges are shut due to COVID-19 lockdown. Recently, the BEPC, a wing of the State Education department, launched a mobile application “Unnayan: Mera Mobile, Mera Vidyalaya” for Class VI to XII of over 70,000 government-run schools. The app, said department officials, was jointly developed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Bihar government and Eckovation, a social learning platform. The BEPC also has planned to book a slot with the All India Radio for the audio broadcast of study materials for school students.

Deep penetration

“In collaboration with UNICEF, class-wise and subject-wise study materials are being prepared which will be broadcast by AIR as radio has a deep penetration into villages and is much simpler to operate … a basic phone or smartphone will serve the purpose,” said BEPC Director Sanjay Singh. The department officials have asked for evening slots from the AIR for Class IX and X students.

The BEPC has also encouraged students for the use of online education portals like Diksha. “Now almost every family has a smartphone and Internet connection. Students can study their new syllabus using these mobile applications. NCERT books are available free of cost on Diksha app for Class 1 to XII and has also integrated audio-visual media along with digital textbooks for better understanding and online assessment,” said a BEPC official. “During this long lockdown period why should study of government school students suffer? ... we’ve made a comprehensive plan to meet this challenge,” he said, preferring anonymity.

Fundamental challenges

But, an Independent research by an alumna of the London School of Economics (LSE), Anushna Jha, has flagged some “fundamental challenges to viewing technology-enabled education” in a State like Bihar. Ms. Jha, who completed her Master’s in Development Studies in 2018 from the Department of International Development at LSE, has done research in 10 government schools in the State with 40 key informant interviews involving principals, teachers along with focused group discussion with 750 students. “Many children have homes where television and Internet facilities are not default features but luxuries that they aspire to have some day, she said in her research paper carried on LSE blog on April 8, 2020.

“There is huge digital divide that exists in Bihar and expecting that the migrant population, whose major cause of concern today is their daily sustenance, would find ways to make their children digitally connect with schools and teachers or participate in online classes would simply be arrogant and irrational,” Ms. Jha told The Hindu over phone.

“Without adequate training and support, the feasibility of which under current circumstances is questionable, expecting teachers to seamlessly move to online platforms would be unreasonable,” she said in her research. “In a State like Bihar distance learning has also revealed glaring challenges that stem from socio-economic, digital and educational inequalities,” she said.

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