India’s village kids have Instagram but no schooling
By Sandeep Wirkhare
A recently published ‘State of Elementary Education in Rural India, report 2023’ reveals that 49% of students aged between six and 16 in rural communities possess smartphones. However, they predominantly employ them for entertainment purposes rather than educational pursuits. Delving deeper, it states that approximately 56% of students utilize their phones primarily for watching movies, while 47% indulge in music consumption. Merely 34% leverage their devices for educational downloads, and a mere 18% engage in online learning through tutorials.
The misuse of an internet connection is the norm rather than the exception in India. The irony is stark: India’s rural youth are well-acquainted with entertainment and social platforms like Instagram, yet their access to formal education is far from satisfactory.
Given that 70% of private school students in India are enrolled in budget private schools (BPS) with limited resources, their inability to use the internet for productive purposes is a tragedy. India’s Union Minister for Education Dharmendra Pradhan has said this time and again, “We need to have an innovative approach to leverage technology to further expand the existing platforms to cover all spectrums of school education, higher education, skill development, and teachers training.”
The state of the schools
Owners of these schools are stuck between the devil and the deep sea; on the one hand, they have reported a loss in revenue due to school closures and non-payment of fees. On the other hand, state-level regulations have added to their financial distress. A clutch of school financing companies are stepping in to make a difference with innovative schemes and products. They are also becoming a conduit for the edtechs, to tap into the expansive market of over 300,000 budget private schools in Indian towns. Edtechs cannot be profitable in an environment where the schools themselves are grappling with financial challenges, leaving them bleeding and in the red.
Schools need a ramp-up in multiple ways.
1. Funding for schools: To upgrade themselves and offer a good learning experience.
2. Skill financing: This is for youth who have completed schooling but have not picked up any specific employable skill. According to the UN, The total global number of unemployed youths is estimated to reach 73 million in 2022, a slight improvement from 2021 (75 million) but still six million above the pre-pandemic level of 2019. Offering them training in digital literacy for cross-domain skills and work roles can enhance their career prospects.
The challenge of ‘changing habits’ is largely a cultural issue. If we are to make more and more children put technology to better use, we have to inspire them to do so as a society. Thanks to technology, we are already seeing the democratisation of education. With technology and connectivity costs coming down, we may see the complete digitisation of school syllabi soon. This is a sector who’s potential cannot be ignored and we may have to change the ways of teaching, to be in tune with the new ways of learning.
The author of this article is Sandeep Wirkhare, MD and CEO, Indian School Finance Company (ISFC).
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