( February 11, 2021 )
According to a 2020 NCERT study, 27% students had no access to smartphones or laptops.
Addressing the Lok Sabha, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar had on 8 February, said that "nobody was deprived of education and online education. Where there was nothing, there were practical mohalla classes."
However, the statement by the Union Minister is at variance from the government’s own report, which points to a glaring digital divide between the privileged and underprivileged students in the country.
According to a study conducted by NCERT in 2020, around 27 percent students have no access to mobiles or laptops, which they require to access online classes.
Not just NCERT, the ASER 2020 and Smile Foundation report peg the percentage of those without smartphones at 38.2 and 56 percent respectively.
While not having a device is an absolute roadblock for underprivileged children, those in households with more than one children are not too better off.
This is validated by a Azim Premji Foundation report which said that around 60 percent students could not access online classes, due to various factors that involve sharing of devices among siblings.
While Mr Javadekar said that those without access to devices and online learning were taught through Mohalla schools, the fact remains that not all students who lacked devices were educated through such neighborhood classes.
In fact, a report by Oxfam India says that over 80 percent children enrolled in government schools did not receive any form of education since the lockdown period, while only 20 percent teachers of government schools were trained for delivering classes online .
The question is – was it right on part of a union minister to not address the digital divide in India. And in doing so, did Javadekar make thousands of poor children, their struggles and their unfortunate realities, invisible?