End of  the year is a good time to take stock

Over the last several months, students, teachers, parents, and schools swiftly settled into the new world of screen-based learning from homes. The pedagogical quality of such a system is a matter of debate, but simulated teaching spaces persist as the best substitute when schools continue to remain shut. The end of a year is a good time to take stock – just how much we’ve achieved, how much more must be done and, this year in particular, how much is in danger of being lost.
A September 2020 study by Centre For Catalysing Change, a not-for-profit organisation shows how adolescent boys had more access to digital infrastructures such as mobile phones, internet services, radio, and media. This evidence is particularly troubling, demonstrating how a lack of access to gadgets and technology may have forced many girls to stay away from any form of digital schooling over the last few months.
According to The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020 of Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA) that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, only half of the women in India use mobile internet compared to men—21% among of women compared to 42% of men.
As much as 80% or four in five girls in the sample that Young Lives collected in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have never accessed the internet, while nearly two among three (62%) have never used a computer.
What does this data tell us? These numbers expose the vulnerability of girl students many of whom are also likely to be subjected to a deep gender bias. This hushed segregation at home can force many girls to drop out of the school system forever. This also raises the worrying possibility of their being forced into early marriage and child labour.
India’s Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme, launched 1995, is among the world’s largest state-funded school feeding programme. The MDM provides free and nutritious lunch to approximately 100 million children, aged 6-14 years, across 1.3 million government primary and upper primary schools, for at least 200 days a year. This incentive has collapsed because of the Covid-19-forced school shutdowns that may have compelled many families to withdraw their daughters from school. A time-series school enrolment data that may be available a few years from now could throw up some worrying trend lines on dropouts. The first phase of NFHS 2019-20 paints a sweeping portrait of the health, economic and gender status of 22 states and Union territories. It ties in with the 2019 crime figures released earlier by the National Crime Records Bureau — a 7% increase in rape, molestation, domestic violence, acid attacks and all the other crimes that group together under the generic head, “crimes against women”. The gender-specific digital divide even among the poor and disadvantaged is a reason for disquiet. A strong political will and sharp policies are the need of the hour to bridge this gap swiftly before it becomes an issue of grave social prejudice.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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