The new National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) has called for a complete overhaul of the archaic rote learning system Indian students were saddled with. Higher education will get more autonomy and schooling will be multi-stream. Perhaps the most fundamental change at the government level is the renaming of the Ministry of Human Resource and Development to the Ministry of Education. It’s so obvious a reform that you wonder why it didn’t happen earlier.
The NEP has another pointer in keeping with the current technological advancement in the field of teaching. It calls for getting the educational systems ready for the digital age. E-learning, smart classrooms, mobile libraries, virtual teaching and other such technologies for all levels of literacy make the cut. The rider is that we must close the digital divide before we can consider gaining any benefits from the ed-tech. This is especially relevant in the wake of COVID-19 since the pandemic has forced schools and colleges to shut. Students are relying on e-learning methods to continue their classes uninterrupted.
Ministry of Education recommends CSR
The Ministry of Education, Government of India, has made a strong recommendation to use CSR funds for eliminating the digital divide. Students from low-income households and remote villages do not have access to laptops, cellphones or even the internet to log in to classes online. This is where Corporate Social Responsibility could help in providing technology and resources to government school students.
Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Union Minister of Education, has issued Learning Enhancement Guidelines that mention CSR-funded mobile libraries as one step in this direction.
Mobile libraries in rural areas
The guidelines state that additional textbooks beyond the syllabus enrich learning. The lockdown doesn’t need to put an end to their reading list. State education boards could run mobile library vans in remote villages and small towns. Students can borrow, read and return books on allocated days of the week. CSR education programmes could incorporate mobile libraries into their plan at the regional and state level. The mobile libraries will have a tie-up with the local schools for parking and content.
According to a 2018 pan-India survey by the National Statistics Office, a mere 4% of rural students have access to computers, with 14.9% having internet access. Already CSR education programmes of companies like Samsung India, HDFC Bank and Wipro provide government school children with pre-loaded tablets and gadgets as part of smart classrooms. The pre-loaded content does away with the need for internet access. Since COVID-19 has made e-learning a necessity, the ministry’s guidelines recommend increasing the volume of such resources for online education.
Corporate social responsibility programmes have a wide scope for working with the Ministry of Education in closing the digital divide that stands in the way of an educational renaissance.