Bridging digital divide


Days before the Prime Minister’s scheduled visit to Himachal Pradesh to inaugurate the Atal Tunnel, touted as a major developmental feat, has come the report about most government schools in the state being unable to impart online teaching for lack of computers and poor Internet connectivity. The problem is especially severe in tribal areas, where accessibility and connectivity are difficult because of the terrain and weather. It also highlights the role of government schools that cater to all sections and have helped in spreading literacy because of their relatively modest fee structure, making education inclusive despite the resource constraints. In fact, there have been reports from various parts of the country of teachers improvising to impart lessons to students in far-flung areas, even as the Covid-19 pandemic saw many switch over to government schools as the academic session got affected, offline classes were discontinued and there was compulsion of the fee being paid.

It is only in the fitness of things that the Centre has now asked the states to reopen schools in a graded manner after October 15. Having remained closed for over six months, schools will find the return to normalcy a lingering process as the Covid-19 situation remains fluid, which will mean a delay in resuming full-scale operations. The schools had been making the transition even earlier with smart classrooms, online payment of fee and other improvisations. But schools do more than just teach, they also help mould personalities through extra-curricular and sporting activities. By stipulating that the states cannot dilute, but make stricter, the relaxations, the unlocking exercise puts the onus of implementing the decision on them.

The problem in Himachal also highlights the fact that policy decisions need to be tweaked when it comes to enforcing them in various parts of the country. Flexibility is needed so as to be responsive to the situation on the ground. With tourism, industrialisation and defence on its list of priorities, the state also needs to be attentive to digital empowerment.



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