Issues of Accessibility and Resultant Discrepancies Amid Growing Trends of Digitalisation in Education

The pandemic has deepened the divide between the affluent and the marginalised through the extensive use of digitalised classroom technologies.

The already existing digital divide surely widens amidst pandemics in more ways than one.The pandemic has reminded us of the need to re-explore the need to restructure digitalisation of the society, as the masses are bearing the brunt of the blockage in receptivity to web-based teaching-learning.Sustaining the new normal in the education system is the evolving nascent till the vaccine emerges and the ailment fades. Traversing the hiatus in online education is the necessity of the hour and bringing equity is central to such a project. Being open to e-learning is a feasible solution in such times but it questions the virtual divide that the students confront. Online teaching-learning has become the contemporary culture but there are certain categories of people who are not covered within this loop. It has created inequity as academically resourceful people have access to it but students who are underprivileged and disadvantaged are left behind in the era of the coronavirus. It can be a substitute but not a mandate as there are many faulty lines  within such a system. One important fallout being that several interpersonal skills of students gets contrived in the process. The effectiveness of online teaching-learning is at stake due to lack of knowledge on virtual classrooms among educators and students and this flags the way for the disordering of the educational apparatus.

 Digitisation and Discourses

COVID-19 has constructed an environment for automation-validated learning in education sector. As the pandemic has expedited the digitisation of the globe, across the world we have witnessed that online learning has been the gossip it encounters the threat of exasperate subsisting inconsistencies by keeping out large sections of the populace. The rural urban gap, class-divide, techno empowered and deprived are reflected in the process. Online tutor-tutee alliance has opened up a plethora of opportunities for connecting people settled in far flung areas but at the same time has intensified several omissions. Preparing for spectacle-based learning with an emphasis on transmission, inventiveness analytic and expository, logical and meditative thinking, and prepare students to appertain their understanding and expertise in the present-time occupations are some of the surging altercations.

Virtual Pandemic

The epoch of the pandemic is not only contemplated in the real world but also mirrored in the virtual sphere. In the context of providers, sometimes the educators are not well equipped in using technology like online presentations, recording, evident fallacy in setting a digital camera, dimension of audio and so on. The teachers and taught, providers and recipients have their own limitations and shortcomings. Restarting education, webinars and Work from Home (WFH) have been universal and pervasive with their own restrictions and barriers. Numerous realities that are experienced like virtual divide, inaccessibility to smart phones, laptops, electricity, bane of connectivity issues restrict their online participation. A student on the condition of anonymity voiced that he doesn’t have a smartphone and so he was unable to attend the online classes, other students vocalized their concerns of having to share a single smartphone among several siblings and thus being compelled to miss out on virtual classes from time to time and so on while others complained of being compelled to walk for long distances in search of better internet connectivity. Some students shared experiences of having climbed trees and sitting atop branches to attend a virtual class in the absence of proper net connectivity. 

Well-Being and Wellness 

Needless to say, that physical classrooms were the places where the creativity of the students was developing but online classrooms limits them and creates a world of introverts, robot-individuals who cannot face the world and the wider the social structure in some way or the other is challenged by the process. The metamorphosis of virtual teaching learning has stroked not only learners but educators too. Physical distancing, social isolation, a new level of family engagement where classes are going on at home, lack of infrastructure in the rural scenario, individual communication has intensified stress, depression and impacted their well-being. The virtual teaching-learning has affected the sleep process, increased usage of screen time which have adverse health impacts which is a threat to social well-being. Online grooming for children can make them addicted to gadgets; lack of focus, adaptation issues is a menace to their mental health and well-being. Learning new cues, building rapport and using the new virtual technology are in some way challenging and grappling and has its own risks to health, self esteem and wellness. Students with special needs and development disabilities are somehow ignored, find it very strenuous and tough as they cannot cope with the pandemic and the novel virtual learning curriculum which someway results in their imbalanced well-being and welfare.

Strategies and Suggestions

No doubt the pandemic has ushered in an epoch of online- mode of education that has transformed the centuries old, chalk-teaching model to one driven by technology. A multi-dimensional strategy with inclusive digital education, preparedness and up-skilling of teachers digitally, catering the requirements of virtual learning for students with special needs, by identifying and addressing mental health issues, interactive online classes, prioritizing health of the students and so on, creative rethinking  and budgeting, bridging the digital gaps and divides and bringing equality in education is necessary to survive the catastrophe and build a flexible and adaptable Indian education. Preparing for the post-Covid situation of education, hybridisation of learning atmospheres, addressing the deprivations and limitations, skill gaps should be the blueprint and necessity of the time and so should be the need to democratize the educational scenario.

Dr. Nupur Pattanaik teaching Sociology at the Central University of Odisha, Koraput.

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