The COVID-19 pandemic has left no sector unaffected, and school education is not an exception. With lockdowns in place, children were confined to their homes, and millions of pupils were taking up distance learning through online mediums.
As a result of this, the use of electronic devices such as smartphones for school learning activities increased significantly in 2020 compared to 2018, data show.
“If utilised well, the resultant reduction in the digital divide between rural and urban, gender, age and income groups is likely to reduce inequalities in educational outcomes,” the recently released Economic Survey 2020-21 states. “To enable this process, the government is implementing several initiatives to make education accessible to children during this pandemic,” it said.
The percentage of enrolled children from government and private schools owning a smartphone increased enormously from 36.5 percent in 2018 to 61.8 percent in 2020 in rural India, the recently released economic survey said, citing the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020 Wave-1 (Rural), released in October 2020.
About one in every 10 households bought a new phone to support their children’s education after schools were closed in March 2020, the ASER findings revealed. Among children who did not have a smartphone at home, one in every 10 was able to access it elsewhere, say from a neighbour.
“Regardless of school type, WhatsApp was by far the most common medium used for sharing learning materials and activities, followed by phone calls and visits,” the ASER report noted.
Access to study material by WhatsApp was higher among private school students compared to government school pupils, while personal visits and phone calls were reported to be higher in government schools.
Among children who had no smartphones, almost a fourth were able to access WhatsApp using someone else’s smartphone. While, in families with no smartphones, more than half of all children accessed materials through personal visits--going to school or teacher visiting homes.
Though the use of smartphones has increased for online schooling, textbooks were the most preferred type of material for learning activities. About 60 percent of enrolled school children used textbooks for learning activities during the reference week, as against 21.5 percent using recorded classes and 11 percent attending live online classes.
“The government has been extremely successful in distributing textbooks to children during the pandemic,” ASER Centre director Wilima Wadhwa told Moneycontrol. “About 84 percent of the children in government schools received textbooks compared to 72 percent in private schools.”
Talking further about educational equity, she said distance learning tends to widen the learning disadvantage of relatively poorer children, as they may not have access to electronic devices. "Less than 5 percent of rural children with low parental education attended online classes as compared to 20 percent of rural children with high parental education,” she observed.