Equal and equitable access to education is a keystone of establishing a progressive society. It creates opportunity and is often the single most important factor towards upward social mobility. However, gender disparities in learning continue to persist.
A large number of children around the world do not have access to basic education because of inequalities that originate in either gender, health, and cultural identity, or the lack of infrastructure and remote locations. These children find themselves on the margins of the education system and social development.
According to the government's most recent survey, the average dropout rate for girls was 17.3% in secondary school.
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Furthermore, the UN states that females have a 42% lower chance of receiving elementary education than males in India's poorest districts, and this disparity widens when other factors such as religion and caste are taken into account. Experts also estimate that the COVID-19 pandemic has put 10 million girls at risk of dropping out of school.
The long-term implications of increased girl dropouts are severe and will further widen the employability gap in the coming years.
However, while the challenges are grave, tech-driven education has the potential to help bridge this mammoth divide. Technology defines our era, bettering the way we live, work, and what we're able to do in nearly every aspect of our lives.
Tech-driven education is a great equaliser as it offers students access to quality learning, particularly for girls, minorities and economically underprivileged students who tend to be the most impacted by learning disparities. This potential to bridge the gaps in learning may be the most exciting and transformative feature of education technology.
Factors such as parental pressure to help with domestic chores, as well as the high cost of school fees, can lead to poor literacy rates. To combat this, digital education can perform as a powerful tool in overcoming access and cost barriers.
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From learning lag to learning opportunity
India is expected to reach one billion smartphones by 2026. This increasing smartphone and internet penetration has boosted the growth and adoption of online learning further. It has narrowed the gap between urban and rural students by providing them with equal learning opportunities as well as access to teachers from across the world.
Worryingly, girls' dropout rates are highest in middle school, according to multiple surveys. This is also the time when their interest in reasoning subjects like physics and maths begins to wane.
Because existing societal systems lead women to assume that science and maths are male-dominated areas, the learning gap between boys and girls widens from less than 1% to more than 5% as they progress from primary to middle school. This is a vicious cycle since a lack of academic interest leads to poor performance, which forces them out of school even more.
As technologies evolve, education will become more accessible and inclusive than ever before. Sections of society such as children with learning disabilities, or impairments like speech, vision and hearing, who have so far been marginalised from mainstream education, make a comeback into the learning fold as tech-driven advancements bridge learning gaps for them.
Reimagining education with the right resources
Learning loss is one of the most concerning aspects of a child's welfare and development. An assessment released by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF, reveals COVID-19 school closures could impoverish a whole generation and that students are at risk of losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or roughly 14% of today's global GDP. This projection shows that the impact will be significantly more than previously estimated, exceeding the $10 trillion estimates given in 2020.
With India set to have the world's youngest population in the next few decades, it is more crucial than ever that our children have access to quality education irrespective of proficiency levels, location, or socio-economic conditions.
It takes a complete ecosystem of empowered teachers, tech-enabled learning, change-oriented policies, and grass-root efforts to deliver quality education.
Outreach at the grassroots level can truly help communities and children at large. Only by providing learning content to the communities and schools on the fringes of mainstream education, non-profits, educators, teachers, and policymakers, can we bridge learning gaps.
Tech-driven education is key to transforming India's development agenda and can be the foundation in laying out the road map to our overall growth. Technology can truly be a game-changer for education if it is approached from a holistic perspective.
(The author is Vice President-Social Initiatives, BYJU'S.)
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