Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said no child was deprived of online education during the COVID-19 pandemic, in a reply to a query posed during the question hour session in the Lok Sabha on February 8, 2021. "In India, despite the pandemic, nobody was deprived of education and online education -- where there was nothing, there were practical mohalla schools," Javadekar said.
This claim is false. According to a five-state survey published by the non-profit Oxfam India, in September 2020, more than 80% of parents with children studying in government schools reported that education was not delivered during the lockdown period. Also 8 out of 10 students (80%) did not receive textbooks for the academic year 2020-21. The lack of digital devices and unavailability of textbooks in government schools further aggravated the problem of accessing quality education, the study found.
Only 15% of India's rural households have access to the internet -- this excludes 85% of children in rural areas from accessing basic education; these figures are even lower among marginalized social groups such as Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, as per government data. Further, only 29% of India's internet users are women, according to the Oxfam survey.
Reports countering the Union Minister's claim
286 million children (49% girls), from pre-primary to secondary classes were severely affected by the COVID-19 related school closures adding to the six million children already out of school prior to the pandemic, according to a UNICEF report released in September, 2020. Vulnerable groups including girls, children with disability, migrant children and children from disadvantaged groups were 'unable to access resources even in well resourced areas, due to sociological barriers', the report pointed out.
Although the Indian government introduced several initiatives through digital platforms such as the Diksha Portal, Study Webs of Active learning for Young Active Minds (SWAYAM), National Repository of Open Education Resources, among many others, the report emphasizes on 'multiple pathways and outreach strategies' in reaching remote communities for better access of online education in the country.
Furthermore, in June 2020, Tarunendra Pratap Singh, district education officer, Madhya Pradesh (MP) told BOOM, a fact-checking website that only 40-50% of children in MP had access to mobile phones for studies during the lockdown.
An early report by UNESCO showed that more than 32 crore students in India were affected by the country-wide lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25.
Globally, over 91% percent of the world's student population across 191 countries have been impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown, the UNESCO report shows.