Education in time of Covid: Pandemic amplifies rural-urban digital divide

The overall literacy rate for people above seven years of age and above is 77.7% — rural literacy is at 73.5% and urban areas is 87.7%.

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By Arjun Mukherjee

The Indian education system is characterised by a huge rural-urban gap when it comes to literacy, expenses incurred at household level, and accessibility to technology. The current pandemic is further amplifying the digital divide — 4% of rural households had access to computers compared with 23% of urban households between July 2017 and June 2018.

A recent NSO survey on education— Household Social Consumption: Education —throws more light on these existing differences. It highlights that up until higher secondary education, the average cost of education in a rural household is Rs 28,157, and that for an urban household is Rs 84,712 — this could be attributed to urban households using private schools for education.

With regards to accessibility, 92.7% households in rural areas and 87.2% of households in urban areas have access to primary schools within one km of their houses. However, the gulf is wider when it comes to secondary schools within a kilometre —only 38% of rural household as opposed to 70% urban households.

When it comes to technology, only 15% rural households had access to the internet as compared to 42% of urban households.  While calculating the availability of a computer, smartphones were not considered. In terms of operating a system — amongst people aged 15-29 years —around 24% in rural areas and 56% in urban areas were able to operate a computer. And, 25% of people aged between 15-29 years were able to use the internet 30-days prior to the survey in rural areas against 58% in urban areas.

The overall literacy rate for people above seven years of age and above is 77.7% — rural literacy is at 73.5% and urban areas is 87.7%. It is seen that 76.1% of students from rural households attended primary and middle schools run by the government and 38% students from urban households. However, this gap is narrower when it comes to education at graduate or higher levels — 49.7% for rural and 41% for urban.

With regards to receiving free education, 62% students were receiving it at the primary level — around 72% in rural areas and 31% in urban areas. And, 77% of students were receiving free education in government institutions — around 62% in urban areas and 81% in rural areas. The report notes that the percentage of students who were receiving free education in private unaided institutions was around 2% in rural areas and 1% in urban areas. From these trends, it becomes clear that access to internet needs to be accompanied by access to computer devices in order to arrest the educational divide in a Covid-world where online classes are becoming the new normal.

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