Educational inequality refers to the disproportionate allocation of educational materials to socially ostracized groups, such as school money, trained and professional professors, literature, and technology. These groups have a history of being marginalized and mistreated.
Individuals from these underprivileged groups are frequently refused admission to institutions with sufficient funding. Inequality causes significant inequalities in these persons’ educational performance or effectiveness, stifling their cultural and financial progress.
Institutions and colleges in India switched to virtual learning overnight after the lockdown. After a period of adjustment to web zoom sessions, the privileged were able to take online classes with little disturbance. Whilst change to digital training provided more leeway for some, it created new obstacles for almost millions of students who do not have accessibility to the essential tech.
The “Digital Divide,” or the disparity among those who have and those who do not have broadband connection, is not a recent concept.
In academia, there is a divide between individuals who have access to digital learning resources at home and those who do not. The contemporary problem is preceded by a homework vacuum. While this split is primarily attributable to geographical problems in constructing the necessary facilities for high-speed broadband, the most important issue is the economical digital divide: the gap among those who have and those who do not have access to online learning resources.
Education has been, ever since independence, a neglected section of the Indian economy. This pandemic forced a rethink along the lines of the provision of this public good, and whether it should be provided by the private sector (as many have been arguing over the past two decades) or should there be a universal coverage of public education?
The proponents of the latter view aforementioned have pushed forcefully that the state must build schools, colleges, universities, and all, and then, with private sector schools coexisting, people will have a better choice environment in which they can decide where to send their kids. Plus, they argue for quality public sector education, so that even the middle income or relatively well-off kids also access it and the divide between rich and poor in public/private schools falls.
Though this view looks quite formidable given we manage the fiscal space required to do such public investment in the near term, there are other grave problems rooted in the sociological and historical constructs which are omnipresent in the Indian social strata.
It needs to be explored why did the rich so quickly get their children to private schools as soon as they become available in the late ’80s? The quality argument is not enough at all, since at those times govt. Schools were also of relatively good quality.
The fact that commentators miss is that a relatively well-off person in the Indian society would never want his kid to study in the same institution which houses the poorest strata. And this is not only because of caste etc. based distinction but is quite rational in economic terms when we think from the perspective of the economic agent.
Example:- A well-off person would like his child to become an IAS, an engineer, a doctor, etc. And all of these professions require an attitude-based skillet, which can develop only in a conducive environment where the kid communicates with like-minded students. And suppose he sends his kid to the government school, then he would always fear that his kid might not be able to develop those skills since he would always be communicating with students far below him in the income strata with different problems.
How would he become an IAS by talking to someone deemed to carry on as a carpenter? How would one become an engineer by talking to students who are already helping their parents out in manual labor? And on the other hand, private schools are flooded with like-minded students, all aspiring to become doctors, engineers, bureaucrats, etc., and create a conducive and competitive environment for such discussion and development. Decide for yourself where you would prefer to see your child had you been a father or a mother?
This argument proves that this divide will not go away even if good quality public schools are provided in a good number, since the students going to them will be the lower strata ones only. Rich will be hardly interested. And when that happens, competitive tendencies are not developed as they are in private schools, and eventually, the whole public schooling dissolves. And this can be ascribed partly to the bureaucratic functioning of our middle class as well, which has its roots in history.
My mother, a state awarded teacher who has been teaching for the past 24 years in a public school, often elucidates how teachers in public schools don’t even feel the need for teaching students, because these students from lower strata have other jobs to do when they get home.
Studying and getting marks becomes next to impossible when they are doing tasks once they return home. That’s another reason why the well-off don’t want to see their kids in public schools. That’s why you see upward revisions in marks, public schools getting good passing percentages, but actual knowledge development, as checked by NGOs like Pratham, to be pathetic.
My point is that these competitive tendencies are a must if you want to focus on skill development. And unless this rich-poor divide between public/private schools is over, we won’t get that competitive environment in public schools. So will public provision work in a unique society in India? Or can the private provision with a 25% EWS reservation be a better idea?
Well, it’s hard to say, especially in the light of the above-mentioned sociological divide, which has seemed to destroy the public education spectrum. Others might continue to argue that public schools provide direct benefits to poor students in the form of Mid Day Meal Schemes etc.
But the point is that are schemes and basic literacy the only objective of public schools? If food is the only aim, then cheaper alternatives can be set up in every locality, or even private schools can dedicate a separate room where poor children can come and eat at a stipulated time. How to get the skill learning in public schools, the more important target, under such a social divide? Think first!
Edited by Anupama Roy