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The Advantages of Distance Learning for Rural Communities

advantage of distance education for rural communities

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, the driving force of the Indian Economy is agriculture. Hence, a large population is involved in the agri-business. Similarly, most of the other sectors are dependent on rural society, thus driving the economy. Here education can play a significant role. With education, people can boost their productivity, and implement better technology and practices in their businesses.

If we talk about the education system, it may seem surprising that there is a greater number of schools in rural areas. According to the Department of School Education and Literacy, the total number of schools in India was 1.5 million out of which approximately around 1.26 million schools are located in the rural parts of India.

number of schools in india

But if that’s the status quo, why are the rural areas facing issues with the adaptability of online learning that the COVID-19 pandemic threw at us? If you think about it, the answer is simple: what is presented in numbers is far away from what the ground reality is. Due to a lack of smart devices and access to the internet, the students have missed an entire year of schooling. It is assumed that most of them might probably have forgotten what they already knew. Additionally, their families have gotten used to having extra hands at home and will possibly be reluctant to send their kids to school again.

Online Education: Challenges Faced by Rural Communities

There is no denying that the 2020 pandemic has taken the world by storm, disrupted the economy and turned the education industry upside down. With the educational institutions being shut down, it is evident that the students of rural areas were hit harder than students in the city. Although, the pandemic has encouraged the world to move towards e-learning yet tier-3 and tier-4 cities find it difficult to adapt.

While there are efforts made to improve the condition, local authorities are finding it tough to integrate high-speed internet facilities. Moreover, people also have to deal with intermittent power supply and then, of course, there are outdated electronic devices. Furthermore, there are many other factors that influence their growth. Starting with a lack of resources, dependency on parents, and much more.

This calls for immediate action against the mammoth education crisis that we have landed ourselves in. According to an article by The Indian Express, there are three short-term ways to curb discordance.

  • First, reopening schools and educational institutions. More than 67% of the world has found ways to restart its education system in one format or the other. And that’s what India should also do. Today, in 2023, most of the schools are inviting students but with restricted facilities.

  • Second, India should not restrict itself to the conventional definition of “teacher” rather at this point, it should be a more inclusive and open community including parents, volunteers, and older children in the community. Industry and the private sector need to take an active part in achieving this. These people can support the traditional teacher and create continuity in the learning process.

  • And third, India should focus on bridging the digital gap to enable online learning.

While all these are effective methods, India should also keep an eye out for long-term solutions. We looked at this crisis as an opportunity to solve the largest problem we face in our schools, which is, the lack of good quality education. According to a report by ASER 2018, 75% of students in Class 3 don’t have basic reading and arithmetic skills. And this needs due attention.

The Synergy of Digital and Rural Education

If we look at the other side of the coin, then the pandemic has familiarised education with new opportunities. While many doors were shut, many others opened. In particular, it presents a remarkable opportunity to bridge the educational divide and empower students in rural areas. By leveraging the power of digital platforms and innovative approaches, we can unlock the true potential of millions of youth all across India.

Online platforms like Byju’s, Unacademy, and White Hat Junior have brought the positive side of the pandemic and leveraged it to educate young children. While there were a lot of challenges in this transition to online learning, there were also huge gains.

According to a study conducted by the National Sample Survey Office, only 6.8% of rural households in India had access to the Internet in the years 2017-18. But these numbers drastically changed in 2020, rural India has witnessed a significant rise in the number of internet users, that was, 299 million users as per the Internet and Mobile Association of India and Nielsen. These numbers highlight the growth not only in rural areas but how the country is moving towards inclusivity.

One of the greatest advantages of distance education is its ability to overcome geographical barriers. According to a report by Omidyar Network India, the EdTech market is expected to become 2 billion USD big by the end of the year 2023. This demonstrates the growing popularity and acceptance of digital education across the country.

According to statistics, approximately 90% of the content on the internet is in English. Therefore, focusing on building English literacy is equally vital. The internet is a treasure trove of educational resources, thus, offering the students an opportunity to learn. Not only it offers the resources, but online education also encourages self-paced learning and independence.

With the penetration of online education, there’s something in it for all. Students, as we have seen, have new opportunities. But the teachers also have added benefits. According to a survey conducted by the Center on Education Policy, 74% of teachers believed that digital content increased their ability to teach.  Additionally, it offers the opportunity to collaborate with fellow colleagues and become a part of a bigger community.

Government Initiatives

In such a critical situation, the government plays a vital role. Thus, over a period of time, it has launched various initiatives for development in rural education in India. Let’s take a look at them in detail:

  • Samagra Shiksha

Samagra Shiksha was launched by the government in the year 2018-19 with a special focus on pre-schools to class XII. It is an integrated programme and aims to offer fair and impartial education opportunities to all students across India. Additionally, it focuses on infrastructural development, digital empowerment, gender equality, and much more.

  • e-PATHSHALA

Launched in November 2015, e-PATHSHALA is an initiative launched by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, CIET, and NCERT. It is a portal/ app available for students, teachers, tutors, and others where they can access educational resources. The study material is available in three languages, that is, in English, Hindi, and Urdu.

  • Lok Jumbish Pariyojna

Launched in 1992 in Rajasthan, Lok Jumbish Pariyojna focuses on the universalisation of elementary education. The main objective of the initiative is to enrol children in regular schools and ensure that they attend. Additionally, it focuses on active learning, child-centred processes, and women’s empowerment and equality through education.

These are among the very few government initiatives. Having said that, let’s take a look at what else the government is doing. The government has launched various online portals such as Diksha, MOOC, SWAYAM PRABHA, National Digital Library, and others. Other than this, in India, many NGOs and non-profit organisations have also contributed to the cause. Smile For All Society, KC Mahindra Trust, eVidyaloka, Avanti Fellows, and others have made a significant impact.

Conclusion

India is moving in the right direction and is in sync with its aim to become a USD 5 trillion economy by 2025. What it needs to focus on is the development of rural education and empowering individuals. For that, no doubt that the government and non-profit bodies have taken several initiatives but the impact will happen when these schemes and initiatives are not only stringent on paper but see the light of the day.

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