NEW DELHI: India is set to launch 12 TV channels and dedicated radio stations to provide poor and marginalized students with round-the-clock access to their curriculum, officials said on Saturday.
The initiative is to overcome disruption to the educational system caused by the country’s anti-coronavirus lockdown. All schools and educational institutions were closed one week before the nationwide shutdown on March 24.
“We are preparing the content,” Dr. Hrushikesh Senapaty, director of the National Council Of Educational Research And Training (NCERT), told Arab News. “It’s for the poor and marginalized communities who are the real victims of this lockdown and their education is suffering. To address that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the new TV stations soon.”
Private schools have been conducting online classes, but students from government schools have been deprived of education.
“We are trying to reach out to students through mobiles also,” Senapty added. “The problem is that many people don’t have mobiles so we feel TV would reach out to more people."
Senapty said that 12 channels would cover the curriculum for all grades, from one to 12, and that the initiative was “just a stop-gap arrangement” until the situation became normal.
“We are also organizing radio stations to reach out to those groups who cannot afford TV and minimize the digital divide,” he said.
The third phase of the lockdown is expected to end on May 17, but schools will remain shut until June. With coronavirus cases escalating at an alarming rate, experts predict that the reopening of schools could be delayed until November.
Out of India's more than 260 million school students, 60 percent study in government schools where education is mostly free but the quality of teaching is not up to standard.
A survey conducted by the Ministry of Rural development in 2017-18 said that 16 percent of India’s households received one to eight hours of electricity daily, while 33 percent had it for nine to 12 hours. Just 47 percent had electricity for more than 12 hours a day.
While limited access to education is a reality for most people below the poverty line, it is not their most immediate problem.
“For millions like me facing the coronavirus crisis today, education is not a priority,” Jugeshwar Prasad, a daily-wage worker whose two sons study at a government school in east Delhi, told Arab News. “We don’t have enough resources to feed my family. I cannot afford the internet or TV or smartphones to educate my children.”
Experts added that, unless the government provided support measures, disparities in the virtual world would continue to fuel educational inequalities.
“The digital divide is evident across class, gender, region or place of residence,” Potiva Kundu of the New Delhi-based think-tank the Center for Budget and Governance Equality told Arab News. “Among the poorest 20 percent of households, only 2.7 percent have access to a computer and 8.9 percent to internet facilities. In the case of the top 20 percent households, the proportions are 27.6 percent and 50.5 percent.”
The coronavirus pandemic had exposed how rooted structural imbalances were between rural and urban, male and female, rich and poor, even in the digital world, she added.
“With the existing digital divide, expanding online education will push the digital have-nots to the periphery of the education system, thereby increasing inequality in educational outcomes,” she said.
Jayprakash Yadav, an economics teacher at a government school in the Patna district of eastern Bihar state, said that most students at the school were from marginalized communities and could not afford TV or online education.
“Unless the government provides them TV or laptops and most importantly internet connection they cannot benefit from online education,” he told Arab News.
The NCERT was launched in 1961 and is the government agency for school education, and promotes the quality of learning across institutions in the country.