Digital Literacy : A boon or a bane

Digital Literacy : A boon or a bane

Digital literacy can be defined as the ability to effectively and critically evaluate and create information sailing through a range of digital technologies. It requires one to recognize and use that ability to communicate information while using digital technologies. Digital literacy doesn’t displace the traditional form of literacy rather it is build on the foundation laid by the traditional forms of literacy. With the technological advancement in the last 50 years which has expanded unexpectedly into our daily lives requires more of us to be technologically aware and skilled.

How Digital Literacy Facilitates Student Learning

Digital literacy requires certain skill set which are interdisciplinary in nature. Educational organisations are continuously upgrading their curriculam for digital literacy to be in sync with the growing technological developments. As students learn more about digital tools to access, share and use new information through the use of internet or any digital medium the more they would learn to critically evaluate information. A few examples of how digital education has been implemented in the classrooms are use of interactive whiteboards, multimedia presentations, incorporating videos in the lesson plan, students and teachers together creating online content that can be used both in and out of the classroom to name a few. And when students are better equipped to utilize these tools, teachers can make the learning process more effective and interactive.

The current situation of COVID has proved to be a boon in the context of making people more digitally aware. The pandemic which impacted on the students, educators and educational organisations globally made them to move from the customary form of education which they were previously experiencing in the classrooms to an unconventional method of virtual learning through the online mode of teaching. The exceptionality of the circumstance has made students and educators explore the varied facets of digital learning to make the experience more enriching and effective which has in a way contributed to make them more digitally aware.

The Challenges That Came With It

Digital literacy remains a concern as most of Indian woman have never used the internet. A recent survey conducted by “National Family & Health Survey” reveals some alarming facts in this context. Over 60% of women in 12 State & Union territories have never used the internet; the survey was conducted in 22 States and UTs. The states and UTs where less than 40 per cent women have used the internet are Andhra Pradesh (21 per cent), Assam (28.2 per cent), Bihar (20.6 per cent), Gujarat (30.8 per cent), Karnataka (35 per cent), Maharashtra (38 per cent), Meghalaya (34.7 per cent), Telangana (26.5 per cent), Tripura (22.9 per cent), West Bengal (25.5 per cent).

The COVID-19 pandemic has made unexpected difficulties in India’s instructive scene. Schools and universities have changed to distant learning and begun online classes and tests. Digital Learning has emerged as the primary alternative. This sudden switch and overdependence on technology has come with its fair share of constraints.

Initiatives Undertaken

The Ministry of Human Resources and Development, now known as the Ministry of Education, launched the New Education Policy on 29th July 2020. Expectedly, the policy proposes several measures for promoting digital learning and enhancing infrastructure requirements. However, given the socio-economic and regional diversity of India, there exist multiple roadblocks to accessibility and the ability of widespread adoption of online teaching and learning.

National Education Policy 2020: Initiative

The NEP 2020, taking cognizance of the present scenario of education in India, seeks to encourage “carefully designed and appropriately scaled pilot studies to determine how the benefits of online/digital education can be reaped while addressing or mitigating the downsides”. As part of its recommendations for leveraging digital technology for learning, the NEP aims to build a new autonomous body – National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) – that will standardize the content and pedagogy, and promote adoption of continuously evolving technologies for digital learning nationwide. Some of the more tangible initiatives recommended by the NEP are: Extension of existing e-learning platforms like DIKSHA and SWAYAM to provide teachers with user-friendly assistive tools like two-way audio and two-way video for monitoring the progress of pupils. Development of a digital repository of coursework, simulations, game-based learning, augmented reality and virtual reality. Development of virtual labs using DIKSHA and SWAYAM, particularly, to make such programs accessible to students and teachers belonging to socio-economically disadvantaged groups through preloaded tablets. Provision of a new National Assessment Centre to design and implement new assessment frameworks that incorporate 21st century skills. However, when it comes to addressing the digital divide as discussed previously, the NEP recommends use of television, radio and community radio for 24*7 broadcasts of educational programmes, including in regional languages. Whether such programmes can replace online classes and e-learning tools, and provide the same quality of education to students who do not have access to smartphones or the internet is up for debate. Certainly, the NEP doesn’t seem to offer any specific recommendations to bridge the gender gap in digital literacy, nor does it directly address the physical and mental health consequences of online classes. It also doesn’t seek to cover issues faced by students with disabilities while accessing online learning methods. It can be concluded that though the NEP offers some progressive initiatives for development of e-learning tools and seeks to encourage equal access to technology, it misses the mark when it comes to addressing the grave structural challenges that characterize digital learning in India. Going forward, it is imperative to bring about convergence between the goals of the NEP and flagship schemes like Digital India that seeks to expand access to communication infrastructure and internet connectivity across the country. A key focus, therein, has to be on bridging the gender gap in internet usage and access to smartphones, and simultaneously making digital learning disability friendly.