Laptops and smartphones alone will not be enough to close the digital divide in education.
Laptops and smartphones alone will not be enough to close the digital divide in education.
Its roots are socioeconomic disparities, which can only be addressed through structural changes, explains M Kunhaman.

Under the relentless weight of the Covid-19 pandemic, the shift to online education has brought to light several issues that might normally go unnoticed. The most fundamental is the disparity between the digital haves and have-nots, which is a reflection of economic disparity. In this environment, giving youngsters cellphones and computers is like treating the symptom rather than the disease. Taking all-encompassing policy decisions would be the long-term solution. Those who need change can’t make it happen, and those who can do so don’t want it. We can learn more about the real dynamics of the digital gap by looking behind the curtain of the digital divide.

The neoliberal age has seen paradigm transformations in education all across the world. Four structural trends have contributed to the shift toward a materialist philosophy in education: One, entrepreneurship-led economic growth fueled by innovation and technology; two, increasing the knowledge intensity of production; three, a borderless world that facilitates knowledge flows; and four, knowledge explosion and implosion. Learning (lifelong) takes precedence over study in the networked world of flexi-specialisation and dynamic skill matrix (terminal). Knowledge obsolescence entails the “creative destruction” of ideas, knowledge, values, and attitudes, in addition to things and equipment. Knowledge becomes a commodity as the change from resource/labor intensity to knowledge intensity happens, leading to commercialisation of education based on creativity and innovation.

While the Industrial Revolution was the first systematic attempt at coordinated/syncretic application in the production of knowledge, knowledge production, collation, transaction, and application are now self-contained economic activities that employ burgeoning armies of scientists, scholars, and support staff and rely on a vast array of labs, libraries, and computer networks. The knowledge economy is growing at a rapid pace.

The Indian education system is undergoing a revolution that has never been seen before. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of students enrolled and the diversity of those enrolled; quality and relevance are the most important factors. Education is regarded by both parents and students as a reliable means of upward mobility. This was once a middle-class trait, but it is now prevalent throughout the economic range, prompting calls for a more inclusive society. Knowledge is a valuable commodity with a big market. Commodification leads to commercialization, which in turn attracts private capital. This should be applauded.

Value reorientation and attitudinal change are more essential than who gives education and for what reasons. Discipline, obedience, hard effort, respect, compliance, and allegiance must be replaced by modern values like as quality, competence, competitiveness, optimism, confidence, and innovation. A school system that promotes hard work is anti-human, ineffective, and retrograde. It is necessary to emphasise the importance of creative/productive work done in non-exploitative, self-actualizing, and self-fulfilling environments. Education should be built on the foundation of asking questions and finding solutions.

The digital inequality in Indian education is a cause for concern. There is a digital divide which is not educational, but a socio-economic one. The material poor are also the digital poor. The digital revolution, with its emphasis on robotics, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, will bypass the “capability poor”. The solution hinges on guaranteeing economic security with assured basic income through provision of universal property rights. Article 21A now guarantees the right to education for children in the six-14 age group. This progressive step should be extended to all sectors and levels of education.

Inequality in digital education in India is a source of concern. There is a digital divide, but it is not an educational divide; rather, it is a socioeconomic divide. The digital poor are the same as the material poor. With its concentration on robotics, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, the digital revolution will skip the “capability poor.” The approach relies on the establishment of universal property rights to ensure economic security and a guaranteed basic income. Article 21A currently ensures that children aged six to fourteen have the right to an education. This positive move should be expanded across all educational sectors and levels.

Modern schooling is prohibitively expensive. The exponential growth of demand, which is connected to rising democratic and human rights consciousness, cannot be slowed. The approach is to broaden the scope of finance by tapping into previously untapped resources, with the goal of ensuring that no student is forced to drop out owing to a lack of funds. One step toward this answer could be to improve budget allocation by reordering fiscal priorities and using methodologies such as zero-based/outcome budgeting, among other things. Two, prioritise education in the creation of economic and development policies.

Involve the private sector in meeting the demand for publicly funded education, not just as part of corporate social responsibility, but also as part of academic social responsibility, in exchange for unique concessions and incentives. Three, parents should be required to pay for their children’s education by increasing their economic foundation through the above-mentioned procedures. In the new scenario, parents will not be resentful of money. Four, establish endowments and increase contributions from the diaspora. Today, education is a matter of right rather than charity.

‘Left out of the digital future’ was the title of this column when it first appeared in print on November 18, 2021. The author is an economist and a former TISS Tuljapur campus lecturer.

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