In Assam, 44.24% schoolchildren do not have access to digital devices, while the figure for Jharkhand is 43.42%, and 41.17% and 40% in Uttarakhand and Gujarat, respectively.
A Union Ministry of Education survey has found between 40% and 70% school children in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand do not have access to digital devices. The ministry survey documents the response to the pandemic’s challenges. The Initiatives by the School Education Sector in 2020-21 report shows a disproportionately wide digital divide in some large states, while some others have coped well by supplying adequate television sets and smartphones. However, the report is still incomplete with states such as West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh not providing the data, and Rajasthan claiming that it did not have students without digital access.
The report was prepared on the basis of data from 22 states and seven Union Territories.
In absolute numbers, 29 crore students did not have access to digital devices. The report said: “The ‘new normal’ may also have a huge impact on the learning levels for almost all children; learning loss may be a reality for many children.”
Among the states with low digital access, Madhya Pradesh fared worst with 70%, followed by Bihar (58.09%) and Andhra Pradesh (57%). In Assam, 44.24% schoolchildren do not have access to digital devices, while the figure for Jharkhand is 43.42%, and 41.17% and 40% in Uttarakhand and Gujarat, respectively.
Delhi, with only 4% students without access, Kerala with 1.63%, and Tamil Nadu with 14.51% are the states and Union Territories better placed in the list.
The survey findings
Assam: There are 3,106,255 students in the state with no digital devices. Unified District Information System for Education data showed the state had 7,015,898 students in 65,907 schools. While it did not distribute the devices, the state did organise home visits by teachers and launched a toll-free helpline to clear students’ doubts.
Andhra Pradesh: A May 2021 survey of 29.34 lakh of the state’s 81.36 lakh students found 201,568 with access to cellphones. Parents of 10.22 lakh students have phones capable of only making calls, while 4.57 lakh students have access to smartphones but not mobile data. The survey also found 3.88 lakh students with access to television, while a measly 5,752 students own laptops. The state has distributed 2,850 laptops and 18,270 tablets, and plans to launch a toll-free number.
Bihar: A massive 1.43 crore of the state’s 2.46 crore students have no digital devices. Tye government has distributed cellphones to only 42 students, and plans to distribute tablets to 250 schools. It has deployed mobile vans equipped with television, math games, videos, and toys in seven districts, with a focus on the Mahadalit/Mushahar communities, with help from UNICEF.
Gujarat: A survey of 12,000 schools by UNICEF found 40% students without access to Internet and smartphones. There are 1.14 crore students in the state’s 54,629 schools. The state government has distributed blended learning modules and also launched an IVRS helpline. It has provided 11,200 digital devices to students and 40,000 to teachers.
Jharkhand: The state has a total 74.89 lakh students, of whom 32.52 lakh have no digital access. The state told the Centre that it had provided tablets to schools and cluster resource centres in 2018-19. With low Android phone penetration in remote, tribal villages, the state has joined hands with UNICEF to formulate modules for home-based learning and also began mohalla schools in remote areas.
Madhya Pradesh: An April 2021 survey of 98 lakh of the state’s 1.57 crore students by the education department found that 70% had no access to smartphones. The survey found 53 lakh students have access to television and 57 lakh to radios. It has started teacher-parent interactions over phone on a regular basis and mohalla classes. It launched a radio school programme immediately after the nationwide lockdown.
Uttarakhand: A state government survey of 5.20 lakh of its 23.39 lakh schoolchildren found 2.14 lakh had no digital devices to pursue online learning. It has plans to distribute 35,000 e-books. The government has attempted outreach programmes to keep in contact with such students, distribute worksheets, and also took roped in community radio in five districts.
A grim reality
The Union Ministry of Education report once again highlights the differential access to education, made even worse by Covid-induced disruptions and the consequential digital divide. The figures also validate concerns of non-profit groups.