Are we still digitally divided? 

Editor,

As per reports by the Economic Times a digital survey conducted by Lady Shriram College (LSR) to which 1,450 of the college’s 2,000 students sent their response, clearly showed that nearly 30 percent of its students did not have a laptop of their own while 40 per cent said they were attending online classes without a proper internet connection. This pandemic has made matters worse for students and individuals working from home. As a matter of fact, some areas in Shillong are without a proper internet connection and forget about 4G, the average speed is 200-600Kbps and that too if it’s stable. Yes FTTH (Fibre Optic Internet) has been made feasible but limited only in the major areas of the city. This has caused a hindrance to many especially students. So what is the response of our Government in the Centre and the State?

Over the last decade, governments have been trying to improve internet access in the country. In 2011, the BharatNet (Through BSNL) project was launched to connect 0.25 million panchayats through optical fibre FTTH services (100 MBPS) and to connect India’s villages. Its implementation began only in 2014. The initial deadline was March 2019 but since only 0.12 million panchayats had been connected by then, the deadline was extended to August 2021.

Also, lack of internet literacy is a stumbling block to many as this is the first time India as a whole needs to be well acquainted with IT (Information Technology)

Knowledge of internet usage is an essential necessity, equivalent to reading and writing. Digital literacy is an important mechanism to pull the future generation from the continuously rising income divide, in turn saving them from poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic is one occasion where a huge youth population suffered. We do not know what the future will bring upon the world; the least we can do is keep our citizens connected through technology.

Yours etc.,

Dr Chanmiki Ezra Laloo,

Via email

Pandemic impact on education

Editor,

Other than Solomon Morris’s article on the impact of the pandemic on education and parents’ response to the crisis I have seen very little being talked about this issue. But as a teacher I can say the impact is far reaching. In fact in the education scenario we can safely say that a whole year is lost for those in the rural areas of this country where internet is a huge challenge and at best unstable. Besides there is a huge population that has no smart phone through which teachers can communicate to their students. People are trying to survive and a phone at this juncture is a luxury item. But the Government of Meghalaya is not understanding this and therefore not even proposing a better way to teach and reach the rural students many of whom are now working in the fields or helping their parents at home.

Education the long distance way is a huge challenge. There has to be an eco-system for receiving what is taught and to be able to interact and ask questions from the teacher. The practice of giving lessons to students over WhatsApp and asking them to submit their work is a poor substitute for classroom leaning. The school and classroom environment is a social space; a space for interaction between students and for them to share their stories; their tiffin, their little experiences etc. All this has not suddenly stopped and it’s possible that when students meet their mates next year they may not know how to start a conversation. One wonders also on the impact on the mind and the mental health of the child.

To be with grown-ups only for nearly nine months and to be under observation all the time is very painful for children. The other day a young girl told me that she is fed up of being at home and being constantly corrected or told to go and study. The girl was bored stiff and you could see that she was yearning for human company of her age but here she is stuck in a home in a      residential complex which does not allow anyone to come out to play in the courtyard because of the need for social distancing. Of all that children are deprived of during the pandemic, human contact is the most felt one. It takes away the joy of growing up and the human contact and their need to confide in their peers the things they cannot do with a grown-up even if those are parents.

I sincerely wish that some studies are conducted by some local agency/college/university on the psychological impact of Covid19 on young school students and to seek out the children’s views on how they wish the Education Department should look at their predicament. I can bet that whenever the schools open next, there will be a very huge educational gap between rural Meghalaya and the urban centres. Students from rural areas will become misfits because (a) their parents can’t help them with their studies (b) their teachers don’t visit them at their homes to take stock of their learning progress and what hardships they encounter.

Imagine students learning science without any laboratory work or experiments. How will they learn basic chemistry and physics or botany? Come to think of it this year will take the highest toll on children than on any other age groups and we have not even begun to brainstorm about how to re-integrate them into the classroom in a new normal situation where physical distancing is the rule and not the exception. And should anyone contact Covid in the class what panic there will be. It all sounds ominous but I am just thinking aloud and I wish other teachers too would share their views here so we can learn from one another.

Yours etc.,

Emily Ryntathiang,

Via email

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