State must build a solid base for imparting online education
The unabated surge in the number of coronavirus positive cases across the country has forced the central government to extend the ban on classroom teaching till the end of August. The Goa government, which had not been able to decide how the teachers would impart teaching to school students to complete the school syllabus for the academic year, has no choice but to make online teaching work. Ever since the decision was taken by the state government for providing online teaching to school students at the beginning of the academic year, the schools, teachers and students have faced some major problems. The students from poorer sections and rural areas have been the worst hit. Despite handicaps, some of the poorer parents are reported to have put aside other necessities to buy smartphones, tablets and other devices for their children so they do not lag behind their peers. There have also been instances reported of children taking up odd jobs to support their parents in buying devices. While most parents fulfilled their responsibility to support online education, the state authorities failed to ensure flawless online education by not being able to strengthen and broaden internet connectivity to meet the demand of online teaching.
As education is the base of development and progress of individuals as well as the state and the country, it has to continue uninterrupted. Now that the state government has to conduct online education for at least one more month, it has to leave no stones unturned to build the infrastructure required for the reach of and access to online education in an uninterrupted manner. Official data shows that there are several areas in Goa where internet connectivity is not there or is poor. More than ten percent of students in the state do not have smartphones or computer devices to access online education. The state authorities have often shrugged off their responsibility for poor internet connectivity in some areas on the ground that local people have been opposing erection of mobile towers. It is wrong for the authorities to blame people in this regard. The government has gone ahead with projects which it thinks are in public interest. If local people raise concerns about radiation from mobile towers, it is the responsibility of the government to address their grievances and bring them round or to find another site. The state cannot impart online teaching without satisfactory mobile networks and internet connectivity.
Though most of us see the situation created by the pandemic as a roadblock to development, it actually offers an opportunity to the government to bring about a revolution in education by taking initiatives and enforcing measures to promote online learning. Till recently, no one imagined that there could be online teaching in the state. Now that online teaching has become an alternative to classroom teaching, it is necessary that the state develops adequate infrastructure to promote it. The inadequacies noted in online teaching by the officials and teachers should be addressed on priority so that it continues uninterrupted if there was a need to extend home learning beyond the end of August. As the number of people afflicted by the virus continues to rise, the central authorities might have to continue the ban on classroom teaching for some more time, which could be for some more months and as such online teaching would have to be taken to a higher level.
The innovative ways in which schools and teachers have been imparting online education are worth appreciation, as they were not used to doing so earlier. They are set, and so are students, that technology would play a key role in providing education in the future. The situation could lead to massive promotion of homeschooling, which is prevalent in advanced nations. Such a system could gain a foothold as parents would prefer to keep their children safe. The newer formats of education would however need continuous flow of digital technologies to deliver lessons to children at home. And the government has to bridge the disparity between the rich and poor on access to computer devices and internet connectivity. Universal education will be meaningless without children from every section of society accessing online education in a meaningful and satisfactory manner.