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Free Internet Gadget and Package to Poor Students

  • 19 Sep 2020
  • 7 min read

Why in News

The Delhi High Court has directed both private and government schools in Delhi to provide gadgets and Internet packages free of cost to poor students for attending online classes.

Key Points

  • Ruling: If a school decides to opt for online mode as a medium of instruction, it will have to ensure that students belonging to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Disadvantaged Group (DG) category also have access and are able to avail of the same.
    • Private unaided schools will be entitled to claim reimbursement of reasonable cost for procurement of the gadget and Internet package from the government under Section 12(2) of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
  • Legal Provisions: Intra-class discrimination, especially between the 75% fee-paying students and the 25% EWS/DG students, upsets the level playing field and creates a digital divide in the classroom which is violative of RTE Act, 2009, and Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution.
    • According to RTE Act, private unaided institutions and special category schools shall provide free and compulsory education to at least 25% children belonging to DG/EWS category admitted to class I or pre-primary classes. They will also be reimbursed by the government for this.
    • Article 14 of the Constitution of India provides for equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.
    • Article 20 of the Constitution of India provides that no person shall be convicted of any offence except for violation of the law in force at the time of the offence.
    • Article 21 provides for the protection of life and personal liberty. It states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.
  • The ruling is aimed at narrowing the Covid-19 pandemic-induced digital divide.
    • According to the recently released UN Report on the Impact of Covid-19 on Children, almost 24 million children could drop out or not have access to school next year due to the economic impact of Covid-19.
    • According to the NSO report on Education, nearly 4% of rural households and 23% of urban households possessed computers and 24% of the households in the country had internet access.
      • Among persons of age 15-29 years, only 24% in rural areas and 56% in urban areas were able to operate a computer.
    • According to the Global Education Monitoring Report, 2020, released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Covid-19 had worsened the inequalities in education systems worldwide.
      • During the height of school closures in April 2020, almost 91% of students around the world were out of school.
      • About 40% of low and lower middle income countries have not supported learners at risk of exclusion during this crisis, such as the poor, linguistic minorities and learners with disabilities.
  • Other Judgments on Right to Internet Access
    • The Kerala High Court, in Faheema Shirin vs the State of Kerala case, 2019 declared the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education under Article 21 of the Constitution.
    • In the Supreme Court decision in the Anuradha Bhasin case (2020), freedom of free speech and expression on the Internet was accepted as a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. Trade, occupation or commerce dependent on the Internet is a fundamental right under Article 19(1)(g).

Government Initiatives

  • The Centre has directed State Education Departments to map the online access available to all their students in order to adequately plan curriculum and teaching methods that can reach such students.
  • New Education Policy: National Education Policy, 2020 aims at making “India a global knowledge superpower” by introducing several changes from the school to college level in the Indian education system with special emphasis on digital education.
  • DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform- DIKSHA is the national platform for school education available for all states and the central government for grades 1 to 12 and was launched in September 2017.
    • As part of PM eVidya announced under the Atmanirbhar Bharat programme, DIKSHA is the ‘one nation; one digital platform’ for school education in India.
  • Swayam Prabha TV Channel- To support and reach those who do not have access to the internet.
  • Online MOOC courses- Online Massive Open Online Course MOOC courses relating to NIOS (grades 9 to 12 of open schooling) are uploaded on SWAYAM portal; around 92 courses have started and 1.5 crore students are enrolled.
  • On Air – Shiksha Vani, DAISY by NIOS for differently-abled, e-PathShala- Radio broadcasting is being used for children in remote areas who are not online (especially for grades 1 to 5).

Way Forward

  • The current ruling will help in the bridging the digital divide in Delhi and other states must follow suit. Though Covid-19 pandemic has necessitated a shift towards online education at a faster pace, the same should be complemented with infrastructure reforms, support and training by the government, aided by civil-society groups.

Source: TH

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