India, known for its rich intellectual heritage, has witnessed a concerning brain drain trend, where talented individuals seek opportunities abroad instead of contributing to their homeland. Once renowned for exporting spices, India now exports its valuable human resources. While urban-educated individuals enjoy lucrative salaries and top-class amenities overseas and in urban areas of the country, rural students need help accessing even basic educational facilities.
To delve deeper into this disparity, let’s examine two key concepts:
The Digital India Mission, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 1, 2015, is a government-led initiative to bring high-speed internet connectivity to rural areas throughout India. This program promotes inclusive growth across multiple sectors, including product development, manufacturing, electronic services, and employment opportunities. By leveraging the power of digital technologies, the Digital India Mission seeks to empower individuals and foster growth, bridging the digital divide and ensuring equal access to opportunities for people in rural communities.
Smart Education encompasses the use of advanced technologies to enhance education in the modern digital era so that learners can effectively, efficiently, and conveniently acquire knowledge and skills by integrating technology.
With approximately 72 percent of India’s population residing in villages, the digital revolution that began after 2016, marked by reduced internet data prices, has yet to fully bridge the digital divide. Despite the affordability of internet data for most smartphone owners, a digital gap persists between urban and rural India.
Can smart education incorporate the Digital India Mission to bridge the digital gap in the education sector?
How Will Smart Education Incorporate The Digital India Mission?
By implementing the following steps, it is possible to bridge the digital gap in the education sector in rural India and ensure that students have equal opportunities to access quality education and unlock their full potential.
Infrastructure Development: Investments can be made to improve rural digital infrastructure, including expanding high-speed internet connectivity and establishing a reliable power supply to support online learning platforms and devices.
Affordable Devices and Data Plans: Efforts can be made to make smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices more affordable for students and their families. Similarly, providing subsidized or low-cost data plans can ensure that access to the internet is within reach for rural communities.
Mobile and Offline Learning Solutions: Mobile-based learning applications and offline learning resources can be developed and distributed to overcome connectivity challenges. These solutions will enable students to access educational content and materials without a consistent internet connection.
Teacher Training and Capacity Building: Specialized training programs can be conducted to familiarize teachers in rural areas with online education technologies. This will enhance their digital skills and enable them to use digital tools for teaching and learning effectively.
Community Learning Centers: Establishing community learning centers equipped with computers, internet connectivity, and trained facilitators will provide students in rural areas with access to digital resources and support for their educational needs.
Public-Private Partnerships: Collaboration between the government, private organizations, and rural development NGOs in India, like S M Sehgal Foundation, can foster partnerships to fund and implement initiatives focused on providing digital education resources and opportunities in rural areas.
S M Sehgal Foundation & Its Contributions
S M Sehgal Foundation has been working relentlessly since 1999 to enhance the quality of life of rural communities. As a sustainable rural development NGO in India, established as a public charitable trust, S M Sehgal Foundation has skilled and dedicated teams that address rural India’s most pressing needs by engaging in participatory research, interactive dialogues, and impact assessment to determine informed actions to achieve sustainable results.
Digital Literacy Goes “Mobile”
Would those in poor and isolated areas ever be able to acquire the necessary tech skills and knowledge?
For most, it was a point-blank NO! But for S M Sehgal Foundation, the answer is Why not?
In 2006, the foundation teams created a digital literacy training and life-skills education program for students in government schools. Digital literacy or smart education was provided in smart classrooms, making a positive difference and creating a brighter future for rural schoolchildren, especially girls.
Teaching digital literacy in a rural setting is a complex process. The trainers recorded audio lessons for radio broadcasts. Digital audio modules, called Udaan, were made available to the masses through the S M Sehgal Foundation’s community radio Alwar Ki Awaaz and to the community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat in Nuh.
S M Sehgal Foundation was slowly able to overcome obstacles involving infrastructure deficiencies, connectivity, and cultural limitations to put together a robust curriculum taught by handpicked, tech-savvy residents. Students who completed the course gained skills to access government services and seek online opportunities for themselves and their families. They had fun exploring the intangible world online that the urban population takes for granted. Students reported enhanced self-confidence and were motivated to explore more avenues that were previously closed to them.
Addressing the Pandemic-Sharpened Digital Gender Divide
During the pandemic, a significantly lower number of girls accessed digital education, according to the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. A primary reason for this was young girls’ limited or no access to information technology and the internet.
S M Sehgal Foundation empowered girls by giving them digital and life skills training classes that continued online despite schools being closed. Later, they were offline while following the COVID guidelines. These training sessions were a game changer, bringing hope to many girls who were empowering themselves digitally, and developing healthy self-esteem.
Young women and girls engaged in digital and life skills awareness training programs learned how to use various computer programs and the basics of internet research. They learned how to search and apply for employment, conduct online payments, and apply for various government benefits to foster economic security for their families. Manju, a Class XI student from Beejwad Naruka School in Alwar, Rajasthan, could check her Public Distribution System status, and even applied online for rations under the COVID programme.
Can the Digital India Mission be incorporated into smart education to bridge the digital gap in the education sector?
The answer is YES!
The S M Sehgal Foundation continues to provide young people with life skills training and digital programs that are key to empowering the communities of rural India.