Imagine being born in rural India. Imagine being Swapnali Sutar. You come top of your class in primary school and are able to enter secondary education. You work hard and your dream of becoming a veterinary doctor gradually seems possible. Until one day COVID-19 stops the world in its tracks. Your school and teachers are able to offer classes online, but your education and future remain at risk because your village has zero internet connectivity.
This Indian girl managed to find a temporary workaround – a ‘shed atop a hill’ with better network coverage. But in the long run, national and local governments in India will have to step up and invest in e-resilience. In other words, invest not only in technical solutions such as better internet connectivity but also a raft of complementary policy measures including systems training, digital literacy, access to hardware and software, etc. Only then can the system function and truly serve everyone concerned.
Problems such as these are not, however, limited to the Global South. COVID-19 also created or deepened inequalities in rich countries, including the Netherlands. For instance, not every home has a computer for every child, or a study place with good internet connectivity. In school, with face-to-face education, that disadvantage was simply not present. In the classroom all children were provided with the same teacher hours, books and additional supplies. So, not long after the pandemic lockdown, Dutch authorities began funding programmes to provide poor families with ICT devices, to enable their children to study online. Such programmes take time to implement, however, and people may be hesitant to request support due to social stigma.
Another important aspect is that large numbers of children simply do not show up for online classes and, because of lockdown restrictions, it can be difficult for teachers to support them. These children are often from poorer or immigrant backgrounds, which may compound existing social problems. Again, certain policy interventions can help, but these will never reach all the ‘missing children’ unless the measures are fully integrated.
In the policy brief below, we argue that e-resilience in education depends on systemic interactions and overall functionality, rather than the individual strength of actors and interventions. In other words, e-resilience in education depends not only on ICT infrastructure and hardware but also the varying capacities of the people involved, as well as the flexibility of policymaking at various levels to respond to new and sometimes difficult situations.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Pexels / A. Shakya