Logging into the Digital Divide in Education

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Ever-present, ever-growing, the digital divide has been widening across the world, but India has it decidedly worse. Compared to the global benchmark of 57%, only 41% of our population has access to even the most basic internet coverage.  And this figure does not take into the account the incredibly slow and patchy internet access that most medium-low income users subscribe to. Having struggled with erratic teaching and learning online,schools emerging from long closures are now faced with an even greater challenge: how can we close the learning gaps that have emerged as a result of the digital divide? 

Teachers vs. The Digital Divide

Over the last two years, the medium-low income majority of Indian students not only found themselves out of school, but also logged out of online education. Whereas the affluent minority proceed comparatively unaffected. This inequality exists with teachers as well, with only 32% receiving formal ICT training. Clearly, with their education at stake, students and teachers bore the biggest brunt of the digital divide. 

We provide some solutions by drawing attention to how teachers can help close the digital divide by introducing highly effective yet simple strategies to their teaching pedagogy, or use innovative tech solutions like Toddle, Google Classrooms that facilitate viable, cost-effective methods of remote learning.

The Digital Divide in Education

The digital divide can be defined as the disparity between those who are able to use Internet and Communications Technology (ICT) to their benefit, and those who cannot. Research presented in this Hindustan Times article, suggests that there are numerous barriers to remote learning in Indian education that effectively group into two types of digital divide teachers must consider.

The Accessibility Divide:

Low income, rural, or urban fringe students and schools will either have no access to the internet, or access that is too slow and inconsistent to be useful for any sort of online education. Unfortunately, teachers can do very little to change that. However, due to cost-cutting innovations in the tech industry, more than 500 million Indians are now equipped with smartphones and passable internet connections.  This means that many medium-low income students will have access to a parent’s smartphone if not their own. Additionally, innovative tech platform like Toddle – dedicated student, parent, and teacher apps – can support school communities offering different curriculums such as IB PYP, IB MYP, DP, and UbD.  This presents a unique opportunity for remote learning if the other aspect of the digital divide can be overcome.

Ability Divide: 

If a student with even part-time access to ICT still lacks the ability to engage in some form of effective remote learning, then the digital divide persists due inability; not lack of access. This stems from two causes. The first cause is when outdated thinking clashes with digital learning. A common example is when a parent is unwilling to permit any sort of learning software to be downloaded, due to their inability to reconcile technology usage with education. Additionally, teachers are either unwilling or lack the technological knowhow to transition from the brick and mortar classroom to remote learning.

The second cause is that the ability divide also lies between students willing and able to take responsibility for their own learning, and those who require teacher handholding in a class setting. This divide resides solely with the student’s willingness to increase their personal learning efforts. In fact, a transnational study conducted by the University of Miami proved that income and social status has no correlation as to whether, given the opportunity, a student can readily adapt to technological solutions. 

    To tackle the ability-based digital divide, teachers need to embrace new pedagogy while facilitating a teaching system that encourages students to take charge of their own learning. Here are some tips: 

  1. Introduce Simple and Effective Asynchronous Learning methods: Asynchronous learning is adopting a teaching pedagogy that revolves around digitally providing students the means to obtain information and instruction, and having them work independently, occasionally sending digitised coursework and assignments if possible. Here are some ways in which this can be implemented: 
    1. Setting clear goals and learning objectives for students 
    2. Encouraging the use of interactive materials such as videos on TedED and YouTube where students can learn at their own pace 
    3. Encourage classroom discussions using techniques like Round-Robin
  1. Low-Tech Solutions to Supplement Remote Learning: 

The key here is to choose what softwares work for you and your students through trial-and-error and considering your student’s feedback. Here are some tips on how to choose your TechTools: 

  1. Choose apps that support your school’s pedagogy. 
  2. Select tools that encourage student-led learning and independent study 
  3. Encourage the use of tools which teachers can use collaboratively for better planning practices 
  4. Find tools which present least-friction when it comes to onboarding of students and parents 

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