BY FR CARLOS LUIS SAC
Enhancing high school education by funding internet access is truly a welcome move. This step probably has been taken after Minister of Education Dharmendra Pradhan stated in the Lok Sabha two months ago that just 25% of the government schools have internet access in the country.
He based his statement on the data provided by the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+), which said just 2,47,000 government schools had internet access out of 10,22,386.
According to UDISE+ 2019-2020 report, Goa stands sixth with 8.46% among the 20 states with less than 10% of government schools with internet coverage. Thus, the state government has decided to step in and foot the internet bill, especially in light of the devastating Covid 19 pandemic.
The pandemic indeed taught us the importance of online education. The government paying the internet bill will help bridge the digital divide, facilitating online learning for students. But for how long? This is the question we must ask based on what we have learnt from history.
We have instances of the Punjab government, which promised to fund the internet facilities of government schools, but, in 2016, faced with a crisis, refused to assist the schools.
The computer laboratories that were built across the state schools had to bear their expenses, becoming a burden on the schools which couldn’t afford to pay for the internet facilities.
But this could be sorted out if there is a proper system maintained and followed by government personnel.
Nevertheless, I foresee a lot of benefits of the facility that will be made available to our students. An internet connection has become important in life as many of us having access to it become aware of the various opportunities and possibilities to better our lives.
Studies have shown that internet access provided in school laboratories has increased the possibility of students getting involved in classroom activities and more so in their studies.
The internet provided in school will help students to switch from the smaller screen of the mobile to a bigger screen of a computer to gain information or for study. The students will be easily able to share and access documents in real time.
Those who do not have the luxury of owning a laptop will have access to a system, although not theirs, to work on.
Internet access can help students learn beyond classrooms. The wealth of texts, videos and audio available in the computer laboratories will be at their fingertips. More so our learning styles are different, given the variety of possibilities of consumption of information in the current time.
Thus, the possibility of a school computer laboratory with an internet facility will empower those who like to learn through a visual medium.
It will also help teachers who would want to make their teaching creative with the help of presentations, videos and other resources available on the internet, to help students excel.
Students learn better when they see rather than when they have to rely on their imagination. That academic outcomes will be more positive than in the past is a very valid and foreseeable future.
Post Covid, we have not just become virtual citizens, but we have become interactive virtual beings. Therefore, it is for sure that the internet provided in the schools will help make education interactive, experiential and engaging.
The internet is bringing about revolutionary and necessary changes in commerce, education, journalism, politics, and relationships between countries, cultures, and traditions.
Along with communication, the internet is also helping humans realise and understand their lives better. But at the same time, we need to be careful while providing this facility to young minds so that it is not misused.
The students should be oriented to using the internet judicially. They should access the internet only under the supervision of the educator.
Apart from creating computer laboratories, the school should also make a provision to provide each of the students an equal opportunity to make the best of the facility provided.
Aside from computer hours used to train students, they should be allowed to access the laboratory and explore areas they are interested in.
In other words, just funding the internet is not sufficient. The government should also look into providing computer systems for schools to cater to each student. This will ensure there is no gap between the information rich and the information poor.
Internet funding will make it possible to have extra computer laboratories in government schools and the likelihood of providing quality education and improving educational standards will increase.
Thus, if the government remains true to its word, its actions will help create opportunities for the least fortunate and help them dream bigger and have a bright future in a variety of fields, such as science, technology, economics, finance and investment, healthcare, artificial intelligence, etc.
(Carlos Luis is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and is currently studying for a licentiate degree in Moral Theology. He comments on social and moral issues.)