Observing that "economic backwardness or poverty should not become a reason for lack of continuity in education, so far as the state of Karnataka is concerned," the Karnataka High Court on Thursday directed the state government to by July 29 place on record an action plan with regard to bridging the technological divide and making available technology to students who are unable to afford it.
A division bench of Justice B V Nagarathna and Justice Hanchate Sanjeevkumar orally said "We are not sure when the pandemic is going to come to an end....two years or three years... if students don't go to school there is every possibility of the students losing interest in education. Very few will pick up. This is what we are apprehensive about, they cannot be outside the umbrella of the education system."
The bench cited the example of a family with only one mobile phone. If the parent goes out to work with the mobile phone, the child will not be able to attend online classes. Further, in families where there are more than one child, a single mobile phone may not be sufficient as all siblings cannot make use of the same phone for learning purposes.
The bench observed "Definitely such children would miss out on education that is being imparted to them during the period of Covid-19. In many cases families may not be able to afford to buy additional phones."
It added "It is this reality which has to be a matter of concern to the state and therefore we think that in these times of crisis, there ought to be budget allocation made for supply of mobile phones or rather technological devices to students so that there is continuity in their education. What are the ways and means by which the state will assist the students to make them accessible to technology, the budget allocation and time frame has to be decided by the state and education department."
On a direction of the court, the state government had conducted a student digital communication survey, for collection of data from schools, government and aided schools. The survey report indicated that 75.50 percent of the students surveyed are having access to technology through the medium of which education is being imparted to them. However, 24.50 percent of students, which is the state average, do not have access to the technology to attend e-classes.
On going through the report the court said "We find that certain districts of state such as Bidar, Chamrajnagar, Kalaburgi, Raichur, Kopal, Tumkuru, Madikeri, Yadgiri, Chitradhe ega, the percentage of students not having any device/technology is above 45 percent. In certain other districts the percentage of students not having access to technology for the purpose of being part of the education system during the period of closure of schools owing to covid-19 pandemic is between 20 to 35 percent. It is only in districts such as Bangalore rural, Dakshina Kannada, and Udupi that the percentage of students not having a device for imparting education is very less, that is less than 15 percent"
The court noted "The state has taken steps to collect the data in order to ascertain the digital divide in the state vis-à-vis the student not having access to technology for purpose of being imparted education. What is mandated is to consider the said data for taking action in order to enable students to be empowered with technological means so that they remain within the umbrella of the education system so far as government and aided schools are concerned."
Further, it said "This is particularly in light of the fact that schools have remained closed since march 2020 and opened for a few weeks. Therefore pending the decision being taken by the state for reopening of schools which could be in a phased manner, it is necessary that action be taken for the purpose of including the students who have been admitted to government and aided institutes in the umbrella of education system, particularly when there is closure of schools owing to covid-19 pandemic."
The government counsel informed the court that steps were being taken to bridge the digital divide. However, the court said :
"We appreciate the steps taken by the state and education department but what really concerns us is the issue of inclusivity in education. Judicial notice must be taken of the fact that despite Article 21A of the Constitution and the Right to Education Act, there is a serious issue of students remaining out of schools and outside the umbrella of the education system. The issue is further exaggerated by the fact that during the pandemic closure of schools has led to imparting of education only through use of technology. If that is so and state on the basis of survey conducted finds in many districts the access of technology in certain districts is absent, therefore pending opening of schools there have to be steps taken to providing or making available technological devices to students who have been deprived of said devices or unable to access the same."
The directions were given during the hearing of a petition filed by A A Sanjeev Narrain.