Digital Divide in online education

  30-Jul-2020 13:37:33

Digital Divide Education Lockdown Coronavirus

Interaction between humans and computers has greatly increased over the years. The flexibility to access computers and also the web has become more and more necessary to immerse oneself within the economic, political, and social aspects of the planet. However, not everybody has access to current technology. The concept of the "digital divide" refers to the growing gap between the disadvantaged members of society, particularly the poor, rural, elderly, and the incapacitated portion of the population who don't have access to computers or the internet; and wealthy, middle-class, and young people living in urban and suburban areas who have access.

The term ‘The digital divide’ became popular in the mid-1990s when the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce published “Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the ‘Have Nots’ in Rural and Urban America” (1995), a research report on Internet transmission among Americans. The report revealed widespread inequalities in national ICT access, with migrant or ethnic minority groups and older, less-affluent people living in rural areas with low educational attainments being especially excluded from Internet services. That pattern was confirmed by follow-up surveys by the NTIA, which indicated also an initial gender gap in favor of men.

Digital Divide as a word and phenomenon has more usage than ever especially in terms of education. Virtual lectures are the new normal admits of the Coronavirus pandemic. All around the world colleges and schools have switched to the online form of classes on various platforms like google meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and in some cases WhatsApp.

Problem With “Digital” education

The problem is at multiple levels. The first problem is a lack of availability of smartphones or laptops with the Economic Weaker Section of society. Everyone can't afford these high-end gadgets and in some cases even if there is a smartphone available then there is only one of it available in a family, which makes it tough for the student to use it.

Second is low or no internet connectivity. Many places in India don't have the requisite internet speeds to stream the live lectures.Other parents complained that at the starting of the lockdown, when all the shops were shut, they could not even get the recharge done for the internet data and because of that their children had to suffer.

Online education is an even harder proposition for the female members of the family. Given the grossly unequal burden of domestic work that girls share, the female students would have to take up additional domestic responsibilities throughout the pandemic. It also means that the mother of the household has adjusts her work-time and domestic schedule silently.

This pandemic has just highlighted the problem of the digital divide once again, but it was present in the education system for very long. A study by the UN trade body, UNCTAD reveals that The United States and China create the vast majority of wealth in the digital economy, and the two countries account for 75% of all patents related to Blockchain technologies, 50% of global spending on the “Internet of Things” (IoT), more than 75% of the cloud computing market, and as much as 90% percent of the market capitalization value of the world’s 70 largest digital platform companies. The rest of the world, particularly countries in Africa and Latin America, are trailing considerably behind. Asian countries like India, Bangladesh are also far behind in terms of bridging the gap of the digital divide.

It is, thus, when all the strands of argument developed above are brought together that one comprehends what is so wrong in visualizing the online space as a place for regular education.

-By Priya Baldwa