The Supreme Court has lately expressed concern about the digital divide created by the network of online teaching and learning. It has also shown apprehension that it will subdue the fundamental right of every child, i.e., the right to education.
The case -
The Delhi High Court, in September 2020, ordered private unaided and government schools to provide students from economically weaker sections (EWS) and Disadvantaged groups (DG) with gadgets with internet packages for aiding the online learning process. The High Court passed the decision on appeal from an NGO, which aspired the bench to give directions on provisions to poor students to help them continue their online education after the Covid-19 lockdown. The Court specified the schools not to include the charges of the gadgets and internet packages in the tuition fee but provide them free of cost. The cost of the facilities was to be borne by the government.
The Delhi government had appealed to the Supreme Court against this decision taken by the High Court. The Delhi Government remarked that it did not have enough resources to reimburse the schools in Delhi for the online gadgets and internet packages. The Supreme Court had stayed this order given by High Court in February 2021. The judiciary also stated that the Centre and states like Delhi should not step off from their obligations towards kids belonging to the weaker section.
Currently, private school managements had filed a petition against the same High Court order that directed them to provide free-of-cost online facilities to its 25% quota EWS/DG students. While hearing this petition, the Supreme Court observed the digital divide in the newfound system of online classes. It is heavy on the unprivileged children.
Supreme Court's Views –
The Supreme Court pronounced the risk to the basic fundamental rights of children due to the education gap created by the lack of facilities for online education. According to the Supreme Court, the right to education is now dependent on the affordability of gadgets for online classes. Presently, the right to education has been limited to kids whose parents are prosperous enough to buy them suitable equipment like laptops, tablets, and an adequate Internet package for attending online classes. Many little children whose parents could not afford such necessities in the lockdown were compelled to drop out of school. They were also threatened by the dangers of being dragged into child labor and even child trafficking.
A bench of three judges, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, VB.V. Nagarathna, and Vikram Nath stated in an order, "During the course of the pandemic, as schools increasingly turned to online education to avoid exposing the young children to the pandemic, the digital divide produced stark consequences." They also added, "Children belonging to the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) or Disadvantaged Groups (DG) had to suffer the consequences of not having to fully pursue their education or worse still drop out because of lack of access to Internet and computers."
The Reality –
Due to the significant increase in novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) in 2020 and 2021, the livelihood of many people has turned upside down. But to get online education from schools, new requirements like laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices comprising huge internet packages have become mandatory. The UNESCO stated that in 2020, school closures and their modification to online education affected around 320 million children. According to the Child Labour report published by Child Labour and You (CRY), only 37.6 million students in a total of 16 states can avail the facilities of online education. The future of many children is at stake because their parents are unable to buy the latest equipment. Besides, children are also compelled to earn by giving labor as many families have been denied food and necessities. Families, which can not pay for the crucial means of living are not likely to pay for their child's education but, in turn, will not hesitate to use that child as a source of extra income.
With people drowning in poverty and children not getting an education, several children are forced to do child labor. In some extreme situations, they are also hurled into the practice of child trafficking. The Child Labour report published by Child Labour and You (CRY) states that every one percent increase in poverty leads to a 0.7% increase in child labor. According to International Labor Organization or ILO (2020), the estimated number of children involved in child labor is around 152 million. Out of which 72 million children are involved in hazardous works. These children are now prone to the most greater risk and exploitation due to the increasing number as well as worsening market conditions. They will also be forced to work for more hours and get less inadequate payment.
In the year 2020-21, under the National Child Labour Project, around 58,000 children were released from all over India. These children liberated from labor were rehabilitated and mainstreamed under the venture. There could be thousands of other kids, who are still suffering in this manner of shameful and disgusting practice. Kids all over India are also prone to child trafficking. Many children have been abducted from their localities and are suspected to have been thrown into national or even international trafficking.
Supreme Court's concerns have already taken shape into reality long ago. Now, the schools and governments are also backing away from helping these children. Education is the only tool, that will be beneficial in curbing out evil practices like this and provide underprivileged kids with proper living conditions and the hopes of a better future. But receiving education has itself become a far-fetched dream for such education. If the online mode of education continues and the schools and government do not facilitate the kids with the means to attend them, the nation will soon be in another crisis.
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