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EditorialsEditorial: Widening divide

Editorial: Widening divide

Published: 8th Sep 2021 12:00 am | Updated: 10th Sep 2021 12:50 am

The coronavirus pandemic has further accentuated the prevailing urban-rural divide in multiple ways. Of particular concern is the way the pandemic has widened the gulf in the education sector and how it has impacted access to learning for children in villages. According to the latest survey, only about 8% of the children in rural areas have been able to study online regularly during the pandemic. One of the key reasons for this is that many households have no access to smartphones. Even among households with a smartphone, the proportion of children who are studying online regularly is just 31% in urban areas and 15% in rural areas. This is an alarming trend and must serve as a wake-up call for the authorities. The survey conducted in 15 States and Union Territories last month has shown that 97% of parents of underprivileged children in rural India want schools to reopen as soon as possible because they are deprived of online access. According to a UNICEF study, only one in four children in India has access to the digital devices and internet connectivity required to transition to online education. The schools were closed in March last year following an abrupt nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic outbreak. Over 250 million children enrolled in primary and secondary schools in India have not stepped into their classrooms since March 2020. Though some States have now resumed in-person classes for secondary students, there is no clarity on when younger children will be able to return to their classrooms.

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The harsh reality is that most parents feel their child’s reading and writing abilities have gone down during the lockout. They are desperately waiting for schools to reopen because education is the only hope that their children will have a better life than their own. Another sign of the growing divide is that only 4% of children from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were studying online regularly, as compared with 15% of other children in rural areas. The pandemic has unleashed colossal damage on school education, particularly in rural areas. The schools lack the infrastructure to relay lessons digitally. In the run-up to the pandemic, less than 12% of government schools had internet facilities and less than 30% had functional computers, according to 2019-20 data released by the Education Ministry. For most children in India, the situation is grim. Lack of access to schools is fundamentally reshaping their lives for the worse. The UNICEF has warned that nine million children are at risk of being pushed into child labour globally by 2022 because of the pandemic. It also predicted that over the next decade, 10 million girl children are at risk of becoming child brides because of the pandemic-linked devastation.

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