Union Budget: The beginning of the end of digital divide in education

India gave its students the Right to Education in 2009; with the Union Budget FY23 we believe India is on its way to giving its students the Right to Quality Education

Announcements made in the Union Budget will usher in a new era for India’s public education system
Announcements made in the Union Budget will usher in a new era for India’s public education system

By Lehar Tawde

Covid-related closure of educational institutions in India pushed students reliant on its public education system towards secondary sources of education, particularly those providing quality education using technology. But poor connectivity, unavailability of devices and lack of curriculum-linked educational content in regional languages kept several students away from supplementary tools of education during this period. Through the Union Budget, the government not only acknowledged the need for supplementary education but also outlined robust plans to provide quality education to students relying on India’s public education system using an array of platforms.

Amongst the initiatives announced, my team and I are most ecstatic about the government’s decision to take fibre-based internet connection to every village by 2023 and expand its ‘One Class, One Channel’ programme to cover 200 DTH channels and grades 1-12. We consider this move to be extremely strategic as it will enable students relying on the country’s public education system to access quality education over televisions as well as smartphones—two of the most popular and widely available platforms in India’s hinterlands. Also, we warmly welcome the government’s decision to set up a digital university to provide quality education, with a focus on ICT, as it will encourage students from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds to pursue further studies without incurring huge costs or hardship.
India’s public education system is large, complex, ever-evolving and multilingual, and typically caters to students from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds.

The nature of this system has kept most private edtech players from serving students reliant on India’s public education system. ConnectEd Technologies, my edtech social enterprise, has been creating and providing curriculum-linked, vernacular educational content to lakhs of students free of cost, with support from several state governments and some of India’s largest socially-responsible corporations. We are happy to see the government’s foray into creation of vernacular educational content, as creating such material and providing it to students for free is a job no single entity can manage.

It has become clear that the government is keen on bridging the digital divide that has prohibited students reliant on India’s public education system from accessing supplementary tools of quality education during the Covid-19 pandemic. The government is taking a well-rounded approach to addressing this problem by facilitating development of physical infrastructure, platforms and regional-language educational content that will enable Bharat and India to walk together in the country’s path to progress. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the need for supplementary modes of education—particularly those using technology—the government’s approach indicates technology playing a big role in public education even beyond Covid-19.

We now expect continued rise of a vernacular segment across India’s edtech industry. Since most established edtech players haven’t been able to gain a foothold with this segment as yet, we expect these players to re-strategise in order to ensure they don’t miss-out on the surge in this segment. Additionally, non-profits working to improve India’s public education system have conventionally created offline programmes aimed at stakeholders associated with the system. Since the government has not only accepted the need for supplementary education via technology but has also taken robust steps to bridge the digital divide, we expect non-profits to rethink their programmes in a manner that leverages technology, moving forward.

India gave its students the Right to Education in 2009, but after seeing the structural reforms presented through the Union Budget FY23, we firmly believe India is now on its way to giving its students the Right to Quality Education, thereby ushering a new era for India’s public education system and a glorious chapter in its growth story.

The author is co-founder, ConnectEd Technologies

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