How the pandemic reaffirmed the Internet as a basic need

After nearly a century the world was hit with another pandemic. In early 2020, mankind was reeling with an unknown but potent virus. The world was caught unaware, and hugely under-prepared to tackle a new global pandemic. Economy around the world plunged into an unprecedented crisis. Nations were scrambling to adjust to the drastically altered reality brought by the coronavirus. From cities, to corporates, to hospitals, to world leaders to the common man, all of them were trying to find ways to tackle the disruption caused to everyday lives. 
While the pandemic raged and cases multiplied, countries tried to get back to business and resume normal activities, and it is here that being digitally connected was a great enabler. During the lockdown in India, students were adopting and adapting to e-learning. Education as a sector faced a terrible crisis and children could not attend school. This situation exposed deep digital inequalities that persist around the world. For instance, just over half the human population is connected to the internet while those in poorer, rural areas significantly are worse off. The economic disparity is adding to the digital gulf, affecting the less privileged. Urban India could adjust due to better digital infrastructure but the tier-2 towns & below are unable to cope with increased demand in bandwidth. Villages and towns nonetheless understood the shift and invested in digital devices. According to the 15th Annual Status of Education Report, 11% of all rural families bought a phone during the lockdown and 80% of those were smartphones, thus enabling the education of their children when classes were forced to move online. According to the United Nations, internet access is a public good and a basic human right. With covid-19 this has become more apparent than ever. Better digital infrastructure can empower citizens by eliminating problems and presenting opportunities. However, just the availability of internet connectivity is not enough. Uninterrupted power supply, updated electronic devices, and affordable data packs also play a part in true accessibility. Unlike students in urban india, a lower percentage of children possess a desktop or laptop in rural India. They depend on their family members’ mobile devices for attending online classes. Sometimes siblings have to share and class timings often clash. This pain point needs immediate attention and the solution is enabling accessibility of devices at lower prices. Digital literacy continues to be a serious concern in our country. While significant improvements are visible, sustained collective efforts by non-profit organisations, policymakers, and the national and local government are required to bridge the digital divide, which if left unchecked will deepen inequalities in online education. The adversity has to be viewed as an opportunity to provide for a better digital environment for future generations. Rukmani Trust through its associate partners fund several projects focussed on bridging the digital divide. The Trust has tied up with Cashify to help volunteers to donate digital devices to children in need. Each working condition mobile phone can potentially help 4 kids. Among the Trusts other initiatives are— Suchana, where teachers use a van to take laptops and other study equipment to Adivasi villages in a regular curriculum-based tuitions programme. Rukmani Trust is continuing to build on these initiatives in rural West Bengal and Assam. But, more needs to be done. A lot can be achieved by providing subsidised devices to NGOs, low-income families, single mothers, remote villages, and other vulnerable, marginalised groups. Rukmani Trust commitment to the cause remains steadfast and unrelenting. Look out for our next blog which will deal with how Rukmani Trust in collaboration with last mile NGOs are going about enabling positive & long lasting changes in bridging the digital divide in Rural India.






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