Information about the issue:

In the last few months, COVID-19 has surfaced as an unprecedented challenge for the issue of access to quality education, especially for primary school students in government schools. For most of the students in government primary schools belonging to the disadvantaged communities, absence of computers, smartphones or any reliable broadband service means failure to access the e-learning tools that have proved to be indispensable in the event of the lockdown. With the proven necessity of access to the internet for access to education, lack of government intervention has highlighted the scale of poor access to the internet and its adverse consequences for access to primary education. 

As per the Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India Report of 2017-18, 73.7% of students attend government schools for their primary education and 76.1% surveyed opt for upper primary school education. Yet, the District Information System for Education (DISE) data showed that only 18% of government schools have a computer and a mere 4% have an active internet connection. This reflects the grim reality of resource crunch in the government primary school education with inadequate internet infrastructure and facilities. 

Earlier this month, the Delhi High Court directed the private unaided and government schools of Delhi to provide adequate gadgets and internet packages to students belonging to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and other disadvantaged groups (DG). It allowed the schools to seek reimbursement for the costs incurred in making such facilities available to the students from the appropriate government under Section 12 of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 (Justice For All vs Government of NCT of Delhi & Others). The NCT of Delhi however, has no policy that guarantees access to the internet for access to primary school education.Therefore, without any government policy intervention, there is lack of clarity on the procedure for extending access to internet vis-a-vis access to education.

Right to Education and State Responsibilities 

Article 21-A of the Constitution states that Right to Education is a fundamental right for the children of age 6-14 years. For the effective enforcement of this right, the policies of affordable internet infrastructure become extraordinarily important. Moreover, Articles 41 and 46 under Part IV of the Constitution direct the State to further the educational rights of the citizens. The Supreme Court has also acknowledged that internet access is important for the fulfillment of the fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution (Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India). The Kerala High Court has observed that the right to internet access is a part of the Right to Education as well as the Right to Privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India (Faheema Shirin R.K. versus State of Kerala).

The State government is also obligated to enforce this right effectively in accordance with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council which obligates the member countries to promote digital literacy and facilitate access to information on the internet, while recognizing it as an effective tool for serving the right to education itself. More importantly, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires countries to ensure free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education for all girls and boys till 2030. Thus, the relevance of the internet appropriately fits into the purview of effectively attaining the goal of accessible quality education.

Hence, we believe that the government is duty bound to provide adequate access to internet infrastructure to the children of primary classes in government schools of Delhi and uphold their right to education in its true and contemporary sense.

What are we doing in this regard?

We have written a letter elucidating our concerns to the Chief Minister of Delhi, the Education Minister of Delhi, the Principal Secretary of Education, the Director of Education, East Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Director of Education, North Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Director of Education, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, the Director of Education, New Delhi Municipal Council, and the Chief Executive Officer, Office of Cantonment Board.

We have stated how lack of access to the internet adversely impacts the right to education of the students in government schools which, in turn, adversely impacts the life of millions of children in the NCT of Delhi. While highlighting the fact that the effects of poor access to the internet, on education, have only been exacerbated in the context of the current pandemic, we have also elaborated on the importance of the internet as per the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in providing access to education.

In the aforementioned context, we have stressed upon the urgent need to formulate specific policies in this respect. Our major recommendations in this regard are as follows: 

  1. Formulation of a specific scheme directed towards the implementation of the National Policy on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in School Education. This policy involves a multi-stakeholders’ consultation process at national and regional levels to come up with the solutions to include and sustain information and communication technology in the education sector; this is to highlight the approach that the Delhi Government could take in this regard.
  2. In line with NEP 2020, the State government should support 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 of the digital divide. At the same time, the existing digital platforms and ongoing ICT-based educational initiatives of the Central and State government, and the NGOs/CSOs must be optimized and/or expanded, through associations and partnerships, to meet the current and future challenges in providing quality and accessible education for all. 
  3. An association between government schools and non-governmental organizations specifically working towards reducing the digital divide in the education sector and facilitating access to the necessary infrastructure for the internet, is imperative. The government should look at ways to encourage the development of such a partnership with proper incentives for the organisations, for maximum impact. 
  4. To impart quality education through the internet, a digital database with the most significant and qualitative material for the children in primary schools should be developed. 
  5. A legal and regulatory environment must be formulated that fosters investment and innovation to enable internet access for the students. There is a need for a clearly defined legislation that addresses the requirement of increasing access to the internet facilities in the domain of primary education. 

We will continue following up with the government, to ensure that these students from underprivileged backgrounds are provided with the requisite infrastructure to ensure their right to education. This effort is a part of our Access to Education Project.

Update

The CM Office, the Deputy CM and the Education Minister of Delhi took cognisance of the issue, and our letter has been forwarded to the Education Department Chief to start the requisite procedure in this regard. 

How can you help?

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  • You can donate here as per your capacity, to help sustain this campaign.
  • In case you are a resident of Delhi, and can help us in mapping the need and requirements in schools in your area, write to us.
  • You can volunteer to support this campaign, as per your skillset.
  • Write to us at work.lexquest@gmail.com.

Important Documents

  1. Letter to Stakeholders by LQF dated 21st September, 2020
  2. Delhi High Court decision dated 18th September, 2020 directing the private unaided and government schools to ensure access to the internet