The lockdown-triggered financial blow suffered by crores of people, especially from the middle and lower classes, has taken a toll on the educational prospects of children from these families across the country. Millions of pupils who cannot afford expensive devices find themselves cruelly cut off from access to education. Underscoring this grave scenario was the protests held by students in the South last week in the wake of the 14-year-old daughter of an impoverished daily worker of Kerala committing suicide because she was unable to attend online classes for want of Internet or TV. Now, the teenaged daughter of a farm labourer of a Mansa village in Punjab is purported to have taken the extreme step as she succumbed to the stress of not affording the smartphone, an essential tool to attend online classes.
While the dream of attending prestigious institutes of their choice of many a student seems unattainable now, there are others who face a loss of academic year or even studies as their parents grapple with hardships. The poor are falling behind their fortunate counterparts. What is more worrisome is that some may never bounce back into the reckoning. Online classes in an unequal ecosystem are a sure recipe for deepening the socio-economic divide. Resorting to virtual education to fill in the gap produced by the closure of schools and colleges without first ensuring a level playing field in terms of access to computers and Internet hotspots has served to widen the disparities between the haves and the have-nots.
The transition to online education has not been smooth. Not only has it been a roller-coaster ride for students and teachers, even parents have been forced to pitch in and make time and material adjustments so as to enable an optimum learning ambience for their kids at home. Let these pitfalls be a learning experience for the authorities. Eliminating the barriers to participation in distance learning by addressing the technology gaps is the first step. No student should be deprived of studies or pushed to the brink for lack of facilities.
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