Digital divide and the use of WhatsApp in public schools in India

One of the grim realities that Covid-19 revealed is the digital divide — that is, the gap between those with access to information and communications technology (ICT) and those without”. This time, however, digital divide has evolved in such a way that it can now be redefined as “the gap between those who have and don’t have access to fast and consistent digital connectivity and services.

With the increasing access to mobile phones and other computer gadgets, access to ICT is not anymore an issue — at least in a number of developing societies. In fact, there are more mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions than the number of individuals around the world. In the Philippines, for example, there are 30 million cellular phones more than the total number of Filipinos in 2018. But while this is the case, access to internet is low. Globally, access to Internet is only 53.6%.

Because of the low access to Internet, there are societies that find it difficult to cope up with the situation under Covid-19. In India, for example, when the Narendra Modi government decided to start the new academic session 2020-21 via online mode in the first week of April, the economically weaker sections (EWS) of the society could not cope up and avail of data intensive applications such as Zoom and Google Meet. As a result, public schools were forced to use what is the commonly accessible application — the WhatsApp.

Unfortunately, the WhatsApp is not designed for video meetings. So what the teachers do is send their students short voice notes about the day’s lessons followed by either short video clips or pictures of the lesson. If there are things that the students don’t understand, or if they have questions, they send their teachers either short messages or voice notes. A day passes by with the exchange of voice notes, messages and pictures between the students and teachers.

This crude online schooling is documented by The Print in a video shared below.

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