When Education Reaches Rural Hinterland

India’s villages have been struggling with lack of proper schools and infrastructure, high school drop out rate and lack of good teaching faculty. With digital learning platforms reaching out to the underserved rural markets during the lockdown period, there is hope of solving one of country’s biggest problems- that of illiteracy 

By Namrata Kohli 

For the first time, India has more rural net users than urban. The latest report by Internet & Mobile Association of India (IA-MAI) and Nielsen shows rural India has 227 million active internet users, ten percent more than urban India’s 205 million. The numbers have been boosted by the cheapest internet connections in the world. In addition, there are 71 million kids, aged 5-11 years who go online using devices of family members. This is pathbreaking as school children are warming up to E-learning models like nobody else. A combination of factors such as greater penetration of smart phones, better telecom infrastructure and coming up of Digi Learning platforms during lockdown period, have been driving a wave of change in rural India.   

Distances are bridged by digital education not just in villages but also within cities. In the pre-Covid times, how would anyone  choose school, coaching center, extra ability classes, activity and hobby centres- courses for personal enhancement or academic learning. Apart from affordability, it was driven by one dynamic only – distance. The ball game changes now with online learning. Take the case of 15 year old Ajay Sharma, an engineering aspirant who had enrolled for the Vidya Mandir Classes at the Dwarka branch, in vicinity of his residence- “The best faculty is inarguably the Punjabi Bagh and Pitampura ones, but it was not practical for me to go there. So I enrolled for the Dwarka class. But during lockdown, as everything is online, we have the best teachers from those branches, streaming live classes. Its actually better than ever before.”

In terms of reach, online education is invincible. Edtech major upGrad has now doubled its classes and courses capacity to deal with the surge in demand for online learning. The company has moved their start dates for all their 40 courses to start every month instead of quarterly, to take on the surge in demand. This has more than doubled their course capacity, and each class now has a peak of 1000 learners at a given time.
“The larger the class in online, the more active the peer-to-peer learning and so it’s the inverse of offline learning,” says Ronnie Screwvala, Co-founder and Executive Chairman, upGrad. “Last month we reached 5, 00,000 learners for our online programs, which is no mean feat in itself. Yet, we are only at the very start of addressing a market with huge potential.”

My Take: For a society grappling with the problem of illiteracy online classes come as a boon. The benefits of this are only beginning to come. 

Part of the reason why people were dropping out of schools at the grassroot level, was lack of interest and poor quality of teaching. As penetration of smart phones increases, and telecom infrastructure becomes robust, the number of users in rural India is also set to grow exponentially. Online learning, at least, opens vistas where none existed. Earlier if your gateway to success was legacy and lineage, now its merit, education and self learning. Remote learning has given the remote in the hands of people and you can script your life story the way you want to. In a country where a chaiwallah can become the Prime Minister, there could be more remarkable stories of success of merit meeting opportunity. Digital Education can become the passport to success as it unleashes opportunities to masses instead of a privileged few.

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