COVIDs Impact on Digital Education : Localisation for Forest Dwelling and Peripheral Communities
In the past 8 weeks (COVID-19 lockdown) the area of education is undergoing a grand churning. The urban and rural gaps have laid threadbare every possible challenge for 'Schools', 'Teachers', 'Children' and 'Parents'. All these conversations and discussions have a standard operating procedure - 1. Parents are literate, 2. Technology is Backbone, 3. Digital is innovating, 4. Schools are initiating new solutions (or repackaged) and many more.
We contend - 1. Is there room for parents who cannot read and write? 2. What about Digital India still to cover the 100%? 3. Is Technology equivalent to Human Connect? 4. Can communities contribute over indigenous solutions?
Representational image for forest areas
The population at the peripheries of the system i.e. further away from urban agglomerations is yet to be equipped. These populations include - marginalised in Rural Landscapes, Forest Dwellers, Peripheral Communities, Tribals, Pastoralists, Nomads, Notified/Denotified Tribes etc. These population face a multifold challenge in COVID times. They have lost access of livelihood, falling earnings, inadequate provisions of support by institutions and staring at a longer struggle to get back to pre COVID state.
Any solution should take into consideration the numbers. What do the numbers suggest? As per Business Standard (2019) - 65% of all school-going children in 20 states, about 113 million, continue to get their education from government schools, according to District Information System for Education (DISE) and education ministry data. The levels of incomes of rural residents is usually low especially among the marginalised sections. The major part of the Income is used for basic survival (i.e. food, clothing etc). Education occupies a secondary realm.
Over the years "Digital India" has been expanding at a fast pace across the country with certain conditions in place. According NSSO report of year 2017-18, all India percentage of households having internet facilities stands at 23.8% - with rural availability at 14.9% and urban at 42%. In addition to the bandwidth considerations determined by costs and usage. The cost to access the infrastructure being the most underrated in discussions. The access, availability and affordability to technology is at a cost - 1. Capital Cost, 2. Maintenance Cost, 3. Access Cost, 4. Associated behavioural change which invites a cost as well. The readiness and behavioural orientation to look at technology posing as the solution to challenges of education is also a 'work in progress'. The Government is yet to initiate substantiated action in the direction keeping in mind the vast geographical landscape and population size.
Forest areas - Deras (no electricity, water and digital connect)
Community at Play
It is important to set up a bridge mechanism between the Digital and People. The need to cover the distance with a phase wise introduction to technology with a sustained focus on locally impactful solutions. The community has been always at the centre of change across generations and decades. There has been a passing on of inherent cultural and indigenous orientation towards education and development to successive generations. The local ownership, engagement and consensus is at the root of responsible change in Education.
At SamantaFoundation (https://www.linkedin.com/company/samanta-foundation) we have been consistently putting the community at the centre of defining transformation of education. The approach to centre localised education not only in terms of developing contextual literature but also introducing elements of Village as the Core. As per Gandhi, the vastness of the nation signifies decentralisation and village ownership of all essential areas (education, health etc) for social change! The 'Digital' space offers this unique experiment in the 21st century.
Solutions at the grassroots level need to be assessed with a 'Local Lens' and ' Global Outcome'. Valuing local solutions and ownership via decentralisation in education is to be given a chance. The illiteracy level does not diminish the social, traditional and experiential education of parents. Technology is often considered to be neutral to standards of literacy as far as its effective use is considered for improving human development indicators. People have a perception to technology which is to be valued, the sheer push down is no necessary.
There is a genuine urge to accept and utilise it to their advantage, interpretation and facilitation is the key. The community symbolises coming together of people hence human connect and partnership is a must to take forward this agenda of education. The system (Govt., public, private, inventors, innovators etc) needs to provision for access, availability and affordability at scale. We have to look at Digital be a great leveller especially by enabling provision of education for these communities in day and age.
We on the basis of our experience of working with forest dwelling and peripheral communities look at the following steps :-
An additional effort should be done within the education framework to address the challenges of - access, availability and affordability.
Support traditional mediums - a. teachers, b. libraries, c. books, d. resources - within a context driven framework.
Preparing a bridge of activities and steps to move from school driven to digital driven learning by evaluating and supporting infrastructure. The community is to be looked at from an owner perspective by way of decentralisation.
Community engagement - a. Youth, b. Women, c. Elderly - as the key individuals in delivering education at doorstep by supporting Community Libraries cum Learning Spaces.
SAMANTA FOUNDATION is running a COVID RESPONSE campaign to support Forest Dwellers.
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