No Help From DU, General Apathy: Students on Digital Divide

Many others like LSR student Aishwarya Reddy are at the receiving end of a widening digital divide.

Updated
Education
3 min read
Reddy alone was not at the receiving end of a widening digital divide that has left thousands of disadvantaged students across India reeling. 
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When news poured in that a bright student at the University of Delhi had ended her life – following months of financial distress brought upon by the coronavirus pandemic – those enrolled at the prestigious central varsity were left in a deep state of shock.

But as they dug deep into the series of digital doldrums that Lady Shri Ram student Aishwarya Reddy had found herself in, a sense of familiarity crept in.

Reddy was one among thousands of students across India reeling from a widening digital divide.

For Darshana, a second-year history student of LSR, the pressures of college is amplified by family responsibilities and lack of digital infrastructure. She can only attend half of her classes because she has to take care of her younger siblings.

She doesn’t own a laptop or a smartphone, and has to walk for one-two hours every day to reach a small school to avail internet facilities.

“I get no financial aid or support from my college.”
Darshana, DU student

Female students take on the additional burden of household chores. Ambika, a student of Ambedkar University, tells The Quint:

“Being at home for so long has resulted in increased abuse – both emotional and sometimes physical. There’s an environment of hostility. A lot of household responsibilities have come to me – sometimes I have to cook and clean during weekdays as well which result in me having to miss classes.”
Ambika

Not Enough Support From Professors And The Administration

The students claim that many professors have not factored these problems in as the course load has not been adjusted to accommodate students of different backgrounds during this pandemic.

Shruti, a BA (honors) Psychology student from LSR said some teachers have been largely apathetic, often demanding students to turn their video cameras on and have an empty background which might not be possible for students who come from financially unsound homes without any privacy or study tables.

Shruti mentions how a teacher told her once,

”Are you so poor that you cannot even afford a data pack?”
A teacher to Shruti

Even though Shruti could buy a mobile data pack, the cheapest one only has 1.5GB a day which gets exhausted within the first three hours of class, and often sooner if the teacher insists on keeping the camera on.

For Danish there is a dire issue of accessibility to internet itself. As a student of peace and conflict in LSR, he had to write a 20,000 word thesis and didn’t have access to any libraries, textbooks, reference papers or interviewees for his dissertation.

He lives in a conflict zone in South Kashmir which only has 2G internet.

“It takes me three hours to upload a 2-page assignment. I haven’t been able to attend a single online class or download my textbooks. My classmates try to email me about coursework so I can keep up, but writing my thesis was a mentally harrowing experience. I almost gave up multiple times”.
Danish

Many students expressed discomfort from experiencing eye infections from prolonged exposure to a digital screen, whilst others have talked about having multiple emotional and mental health breakdowns in a week because of the stress and rigour of the academic coursework.

Students have been appealing to universities to help them with financial grants or provide them with a laptop/mobile phone or reimburse their monthly internet costs to support students. Some students have also taken up part time jobs to support their family through this pandemic. They are requesting the university to not make attendance mandatory and to reduce the load of their coursework, but the administration of most colleges in India have not heeded to these demands.

Students fear that they may be unable to cope – a cause for crippling anxiety over their future. “They should have reduced the syllabus in a time like this but they didn’t. I’m having multiple breakdowns every week,” said Shruti.

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