The novel coronavirus has deprived 463 million children worldwide of schooling due to social distancing standards. Many countries have been able to adapt and provide their students with remote learning experiences; however, countries with low-income rural areas, such as India, do not have the resources to accommodate a large segment of their population. With only 24 percent of Indian households having stable internet access, about 286 million children in the country have been unable to complete an online education. Across the country, volunteers and communities are helping vulnerable families with their remote learning endeavors; however, millions of students are left without aid. A student from India studying in the United States, henceforth referred to as Ryan, shared how many of his schoolmates back home feel “their lives are being taken away from them, as receiving technology for school from the government in India right now is comparable to winning the lottery.”
The families hardest hit in India are those who reside in rural villages, with only 8 percent of households with students aged between 5 and 24 having both access to a computer and internet connection. Adjusting to this new lifestyle, many remote villages have created designated communal rooms where children can access a television and internet connection. Often neglected by the government, the rural areas not only are left without technology but as well have little access to medical and psychological health centers. My source explained “I feel fortunate to be studying in America where my school provides online access to therapists. Back home in India, there is a stigma with mental health, and my friends who are drained from school and have unhealthy home environments have no access to counseling.”
Women are also vulnerable to an unequal learning experience as India holds one of the largest gender gaps within access to technology. Ryan describes how “Girls are always taught to be in the kitchen and how to be a good mother from a young age. Many parents are taking advantage of this online learning era to train their girls for domestic beauty, which has already lead to an increase in child marriage and pregnancy.” Accordingly, only 28 percent of women have internet access in rural India whereas 72 percent of men do. As a result, only 65 percent of women in India are literate, bringing many disadvantages to them such as low access to information, less economic opportunities, and more difficulty networking. This inequality is heightened for women in rural areas, with most villages continuing to follow a more traditional lifestyle, which does not prioritize schooling. In all, remote learning has not only increased womens’ already disproportionate access to education, but has also brought a rise in the number of child marriages in rural villages.
Another large issue in India stemming from COVID-19 induced unemployment is child labor. With students at home, many parents who have recently lost their jobs are taking advantage of their children as a cheap labor source. Many adolescents are being forced to work dangerous and illegal jobs, such as rolling cigarettes, rummaging through dumps with broken glass, and serving tea outside brothels. As the pandemic progresses, the United Nations estimates that at least 24 million children globally will drop out of school and be sucked into work. Ryan confirmed this stating that most Indian jobs are manufacturing based—which are unable to be moved online— leading to the utilization of children to bring the family income. With the closure of cash depositories and lack of access to internet forums such as venmo, each cent per day that children bring home assists to supply their meals and technological access. School was protecting students, providing them with food and shelter and overall saving them from being dragged into the child labor issue. Literacy and health will continue to be a challenge due to these conditions.
Overall, India has done their best to adapt with online learning standards, but much of the country is far too remote and inaccessible. Many state officials and teachers have worked to provide resources, such as creating e-learning portals with video lessons, worksheets, and assessments in multiple languages; furthermore, the government has been working to provide neighborhood centers with libraries and tvs. Similarly, other organizations such as Khan Academy have created online lessons specific for students in India, and All India Radio is providing schooling lessons to much of the country, even in Jammu and Kashmir where the government has banned high speed internet.
On the other hand, many teachers tracked down students with no internet access, eventually getting into contact with 70 percent of their students. With those who have internet connection, lessons are communicated through long videos and discussions on WhatsApp, but for those with limited technology, teachers have been educating through text messages and short phone calls. In all, the response to the pandemic requires collective action to preserve the educational development of the world’s students. As Urvashi Sahni stated in her article on Brookings, “if it takes a village to raise a child, we must empower the village to teach the child.”