Teach For India #DontStopLearning

Bridging the digital divide

Father sells cows to buy smartphones for daughters school amid pandemic.

The news that went viral on the Internet (July 2020) is a true story from a village in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra district. Kuldip Kumar wanted to buy a smartphone for his daughter's online classes but had no money. He borrowed money from a lender around 2.5 months ago and bought the gadget. However, after the lender pressured him to repay the loan, he sold his cow recently.

In another viral story, Swapnil a young girl from a small village of Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra climbs a hill in her village to attend online classes, every day, without fail. She is pursuing her studies in Veterinary Sciences from a college in Mumbai. Swapnil told BBC that initially, she used to attend online lectures sitting under a tree. But later, when her classes for the 3rd year also started, she climbed atop a hill.

Fifth semester BA English student Namitha Narayanan who has been attending online classes sitting on the rooftop has finally got high-speed internet.

Pandemic and the digital divide 

The pandemic has created a wide-open digital divide. According to a recent NCERT survey, 27% of students in India do not have smartphones and laptops. 28% of students are not able to study properly due to frequent power outages

According to a National Sample Survey report, 90 lakh students studying in the country's government schools have no facility for online education. 24 percent of households are connected to the Internet through smartphones, and only 11 percent have a computer with an Internet connection, while the situation in rural India is worse.

It further said that 16 percent of rural households get electricity from 1 to 8 hours, 33 percent rural households get electricity for 9 to 12 hours, while 47 percent get power supply more than 12 hours.

Notably, 66 percent of India's population still lives in villages and if this number fails to get 24-hour electricity, then how will students in villages have access to online education.

In its latest issue, Political & Weekly Journal has called the state and educational administrations, behaving as “benevolent patriarchs.”

The decision to launch massive online education neglects a crucial factor on which it is critically contingent: students’ access to digital ­infrastructure, namely a mix of either computer, tablet or smartphone, and ­access to the internet. The neglect of this vital input raises serious questions on the outcome aspect. Do the households in general and those who have school/college going students, in particular, have access to essential digital infrastructure? Will online education enables all students to participate in and profit from it equally? Or, will it leave behind those who lack access to the digital infrastructure?

According to 2017-18 data: 24% of households in India had access to the internet through any of the digital devices, whereas only 11% had a computer (including tablet)

And this goes without saying that students from richer households have better access to the internet and computers.

#DontStopLearning

To fill the growing digital divide gap in the country nonprofit organization Teach For India is running the #DontStopLearning initiative. Sponsor a device to help bridge the digital divide in the country is the campaign call.

“For the first time, a crisis has given us the opportunity to re-imagine education, to bridge the inequity gap, and to enable a new form of learning that could be a true equalizer for all children. Though the requirement for devices is much higher, our immediate goal is to raise funds for 1000 devices for Grade 5 to 10 Students through this campaign,” says Teach For India on the website

The beauty of the campaign video is that it is not just asking for donations. It educates you on how the organization and its teachers are going all the way out to help students. But 50% of students that Teach for India serves don’t have access to a stable internet connection or smartphone. And at this point, the call for donation is made. Makes perfect humane sense.

Earlier last month, the organization also shared how it is enabling education for the students during the ongoing lockdown. For instance, Teach For India Chennai have introduced the idea of “Peer Learning Circles” to solve problems, and successfully procured audiobooks for the first term for all textbooks for Grades 4 - 8 through donor engagement initiatives.

To ensure that his students keep up with their classes, Rohan Rajapure in Mumbai records himself teaching core topics and concepts and uploads the videos on his channel on YouTube. Students watch these videos, make notes, and solve assignments based on these videos asynchronously, that is, individually, whenever they get time during the day. 

You will find more inspiring stories in the pdf document shared as a Newsletter(my guess). Why are they not part of the Teach For India blog? Just browsing the pdf once, I could see more than 10 content ideas.

But wait do they have a blog? I couldn’t find it on the website. This also means that I can’t subscribe to the nonprofit’s work if I am not a donor. Looks like a puzzle that the organization needs to solve if it is considering Email Marketing.

Meanwhile, it is active on almost all social platforms:

The campaign page provides you all the relevant details of the campaign and the status of the campaign with the money collection counter.

The Donation page is simple and gets to the point without much of a fuss. While I like a dedicated FAQ page takes care of all questions which reduces donor anxiety; the organization can let go some of the not so important personal details.

Once you have provided all your details the campaign page takes you to the payment gateway. (P.S. I haven’t made any donation for this campaign so I am unable to comment on the post-donation process.)

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education, Government of India, has made a strong recommendation to use CSR funds for eliminating the digital divide.

The digital divide can’t be solved by any single entity. It is encouraging that we are accepting it as a problem and addressing it.