Online education may for now be the only option at the disposal of governments across the globe given the near-global lockdown, but it comes with a cost no government, especially one governing a developing nation, is ready to bear: the cost of taking out of the context those who either belong to underprivileged families or hail from areas aloof of any bits of internet connectivity, irrespective of whether or not they can afford to stand it since they have to be home and can’t reside in cities owing to hostels’ having been shut down.
The pictures issuing forth for the KP’s far-flung districts are encouraging given how they show students’ climbing mountains and travelling for hours on foot to get a single bar of internet, but they don’t overshadow the entire tale of their having been deliberately left out the race that everybody has been forced to take part in.
The ‘online-isation’ of education, to borrow Arundhati Roy’s term, is bound to leave many bright minds out of the system—and I say this because many that I know of come from families for whom buying gadget(s) and providing internet for their kids 24/7 are far from possible. My privilege amid the current crisis is that my internet connection is faster than of many and that I own a laptop that can do more than I need it to; both allowing me to take my MPhil classes at ease. But I also know that people studying in the same class as me have to undergo a lot of difficulties only to be able to check if they’ve received any updates from their professors or emails containing links to, and reading material for, future classes, let alone attend a class: I have a classmate hailing from Chitral who has to travel 60 kilometres to catch enough signal to be able to attend online classes, and then has to walk back home covering the same amount of distance, all of it five days a week.
But none of it is to contend that it is entirely unproblematic for middleclass families who, as the general perception is, can unshakably do the needful and not let their children be deprived of education. Most such families have at least 3-4 kids, and until of late when they only had to have one gadget for all of them for all purposes pertaining to education and entertainment, they now surely have to buy as many as required to meet the needs of every one of their kids and to enable them to attend online classes without having to worry about having to hand over the gadget to their siblings. And all of this comes at a cost that nobody, regardless of their class, had signed up for; that couldn’t possible have crossed anybody’s mind before.
We are a developing nation, and being what we are, anything that is based wholly upon technology and its availability will be marked with discrimination and bound to provide space for everybody but the underprivileged. Take for instance the example of ex-FATA where students are protesting in huge numbers and demanding the HEC to step back on its decision—the latter, it seems, have made it a point to interfere in universities’ internal matters and make its presence felt regardless of the repercussions in lieu of taking into account the concerns of these students and demanding the federal government that they be first equipped with the requisite mediums before imposing upon them a novel, alien system they can’t possibly afford to take part in. And the same holds true for India where it is being dreaded that millions of Dalit children will find themselves secluded thereby bringing about a drastic increment in their being left behind.
Amid such suffocating times when, on the one hand, deaths are being recorded in high numbers owing to the Coronavirus, and, on the other, those who somehow manage to stay safe have to undergo more than they can only to stay at it and in the system while also keeping company with a farrago of fact and myth, there’s only gloom the indiscriminate eye sees, only despair the hopeless heart has on offer for it. The on-going crisis has made it as evident as the sky is on a bright, sunny day that our system isn’t accommodating in its ability to tend to the underprivileged and grant them enough space in its list of priorities. The efforts that are being undertaken now are simply too little, too late. It, per my understanding, will take months for internet to be made available in areas where electricity is a forlorn cause, and by the time it somehow is, many would’ve been left behind so far never to be able to catch up.
The writer is an MPhil student enrolled at the Department of Political Science, University of Peshawar.