At present there is no control over online education. The consumer behaviour with regard to online education stands under shades of grey. For most of us, adopting to online class mode is still a arduous task. What online education really does it teaching an individual at his or her own face. So, for certain age group people and certain courses, online education is the best solution. Senior teachers find it difficult to create digital content for students and effectively conveying the same. It is unfair that we expect from the teachers and students to upgrade and adopt to online class mode drastically. Many learners still want online education as an option but not the only mode of education.
Children of the 21st century are experts in handling gadgets and digital media. The transition from physical to online classes happened too quickly within a year. We could see that the schools in the cities could adapt faster and easily to online format of learning. But those schools in the small towns or mainly the government schools were totally shut down. Locked classrooms, absence of teachers and lack of online education facilities have left students into the maze of uncertainty. But there were also some sincere teachers who tried their best to conduct the classes by maintaining all the COVID protocols.
Although most of the issues are similar to rural areas of other parts, but there are certain challenges that are specific to online education in North-east or Assam. We can divide the demography of Assam into two halves – Hills and Plains. Among the 7 different states, Assam has a flexible demography. Because along with the tribes, mainland people also live here who mainly dominate the plains.
1. Hilly Topography
Assam and the North-Eastern region comprises of several small and big hills. The tribes mainly inhabit the hills. With tough road conditions and inadequate man power, it’s difficult for the telecom sector to mobilize and operate in these areas. Hilly regions have their climatic constraint. People live a very simple life there whose major needs are water and firewood. But that doesn’t mean they are uneducated. As far as the access to internet infrastructure technologies are concerned, they are still out of range. So, online education still remains a possibility in these areas.
2. Poor Administration
In most of the Assamese villages “CHANDA” culture prevails. Often this is fund raising activity irritates people when their car or bikes are stopped anywhere in the middle of the road for collecting CHANDAs (money). Businesses are reluctant to operate due to such activities. Government must increase the number of police personnel and upgrade them with latest technologies. After 75 years of Independence, still bamboo bridges are seen in major roads. During floods most of these bridges are washed away. That means their longevity is one year. Roads are good to some extent. For the online education to reach every nook and corner, better road conditions are essential.
3. Poor Internet Infrastructure
Internet is easy to use if used for entertainment purposes but using it for live classes is a catch-22. A smartphone is still to reach every hand in village areas. Simply having a smartphone will not solve the purpose. We will call it a limited smartphone. To receive online education, one must have a smartphone of minimum requisite standards. Still there are many hilly and rural areas in Assam where there is no electricity at the moment. Good internet connectivity has no meaning with frequent power cut issues.
4. Ignorance and Fear
In a village environment, often the elders are unable to visualize the need of a newer concept in their child’s education. People are reluctant to get familiar with modern gadgets related to education. Particularly the elderly women have inadequate knowledge in terms of online education. They are packed up with a woman-like culture who will give themselves up to unnecessary gossips and criticism rather than encouraging children. People fear to accept new opportunities and deem every opportunity that come to them as scam. They have to come out of this mentality and accept new realities and be open-minded in educational and social developmental issues.
5. Device availability Issue
In the past, chit fund companies have cheated many Assamese villagers. Due to various reasons, they sometimes cannot decide upon a scam or an opportunity. Also they try to forward such issues to the elders in their villages who sometimes take undue advantage from them. Blindly following village elders is not a welcoming activity always. With limited means of livelihood, smartphones are still objects of luxury for many villagers. Laded with micro finance loans, village parents cannot afford the periodic data packages needed for online education. Instead of depending entirely upon government schemes, villagers must themselves think of raising their economic conditions.
6. Uncooperative Joint-Family Culture
A student has more distractions in a joint family. However, being in a joint family have benefits and values. With respect to online education, a student, especially a girl is unable to make decisions under the psychological pressure of a joint family culture. While at home, a girl child often assists the mother in household works. The person who can best remove such imbalances is a girl herself. When one girl stood up for her education, then automatically the rest follows. An online class cannot make space in such families dealing with frequent guests, get together, feasts and festivals. Sometimes, a girl may unnecessarily trap herself in a whirlpool of joint-family culture syndrome.
7. Lack of good translators
For national unity, we have the language Hindi. In North-East except Assam and Arunachal, very few people speak Hindi. The tribal speak either their mother tongue or English. So, the tribal people have an affinity towards the western culture. Assamese medium students, in general, will sure to have less grip over the English or Hindi Languages. To reach them online, digital content has to be crafted in Assamese. Now, this role can be played by good translators who are good in English as well as Assamese languages. But unfortunately, such individuals are rare in the state. The few that are available again lack the required IT skills for the purpose. So, most of the time, we see errors in the translated books.
Online education has good, bad and ugly dimensions. Power, data and gadgets are the three necessities for online education. There are many ways of generating electricity of which solar is the most convenient and cost-effective. Instead of waiting for the government to deliver electricity to each and every village, the villagers must craft their own innovative solutions. The solution lies in raising the economy of each home a little higher. Whatever online education related innovations private companies develop, they must try to make them affordable and accessible. At the same time, village people must also try to cooperate with them. Business models based on mutualism survive in the long run. We can’t predict right now how online education is going to address issues related to social skills and sportsmanship in the future.