The COVID-19 pandemic had badly battered and bruised the education system and exposed the digital divide in India. However experts say that there is still a ray of hope to bring things back on track with the help of civil society organisation. Indiatimes spoke to Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder and Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation, who shared his thoughts about how certain policy measures can help India achieve its goals for primary education.
Q1. There are reports about the COVID-19 Pandemic adversely affecting education, particularly primary education in India. Do you think that civil society organizations can intervene and help bringing it back on track?
The pandemic has left major gaps in India’s education sector. Worst impacted have been students in rural areas. According to the ASER 2020 survey, only 18.3 percent of children in rural areas enrolled in government schools had access to video recordings while only a mere 8.1 percent had attended live online classes. Our survey ‘Scenario amidst COVID-19-On ground Situation and Possible Solutions’ found that about 56%children out of the 42,831 students surveyed did not have access to smartphones. Lack of resources like digital devices and access to internet added to financial restraints have been major hurdles for students striving to receive quality education at the grassroots. The pandemic accelerated work done by civil society organizations as many went an extra mile to provide and create positive impact. At Smile Foundation, we started the ‘Shiksha Na Ruke’ initiative to provide continuous education during the pandemic. Through our interventions, we worked in 201 mission education centers across 22 states. There are many other CSO’s working towards addressing issues of education. I believe it will take a collective effort with innovative solutions by the government and CSO’s along with active participation from educational institutions to bring back education on track.
Q2. Digital divide is one of the biggest outcomes of the Pandemic. From Jammu and Kashmir to down south, digital divide once again highlighted the social reality in India. In your opinion, how can we bridge this digital divide across the length and breadth of the country.
We could easily say that the education sector underwent a transformation in the last year with digitization of learning methods across all levels of education. Teachers adapted to teaching online and sharing video classes, students learnt to study through their screens. However, not every student in India had access to a smart phone or computer. To bridge the digital divide, we need to strengthen nationwide infrastructure to provide internet access that is cost efficient and of reasonable speed. The social divide adds the complexity of the digital divide, this is where grassroot mobilizers and CSO’s can play a crucial role in enabling access to the underprivileged. With respect to education, there are now a number of tech-free and low-tech innovations that can be implemented to bridge the digital divide across India.
Q.3 Despite having a large network of primary health centers, healthcare in India remains out of reach for millions – be it through physical reach or financial. How has this changed as the focus of administrators and the society shifted to health in a post-Covid world?
The COVID-19 pandemic demanded for healthcare access in the remotest of areas as the virus spread far and wide. Though we have a well-planned primary healthcare network in India, what created a hurdle was distribution of quality healthcare services with respect to the increasing demands of COVID relief. With the pandemic affecting the social and economic landscape of the nation, key focus for administrators and the society at large has been to provide healthcare facilities across both rural and urban India. COVID-19 pandemic shifted the focus on many organizations towards providing equitable and quality healthcare. According to ‘India Philanthropy Report 2021’, Private sector philanthropic giving rose 23 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, reaching $8.6 billion. Corporates as well as individuals contributed towards strengthening healthcare infrastructure. Solutions like Mobile healthcare took a leap to address the urgent demands of healthcare services in rural areas that lacked infrastructure and resources.
Q.4 How has the increased adoption of technology after Covid-19 changed the way civil-society organizations function? How has this phenomenon altered impact delivery and assessment?
The adoption of technology through the pandemic has been a boon for civil-society organizations function. Engagement of the general public with CSOs has increased through digital platforms. Giving to CSO’s has become easier through digital platforms. At Smile, the general public can easily engage and contribute towards child education through our ‘Shiksha Na Ruke’ initiative Digitization has also helped increase connectivity and networks allowing us to reach new geographies. Digital adoptions have led to innovative solutions like telemedicine delivery and creation of tele-support tools for education and development. Impact delivery and assessment is slowly seeing a change with grassroots adapting to technology and digitization. Technological adoption is helping CSO’s enable empowerment of communities and create greater social impact.