Tag: coronovirusoutbreakinIndia

How COVID-19 is affecting the higher-ed students in India: Need for corrective action

COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all sections of society. However, the impact on higher-ed students is the least discussed so far. Unlike schools, where students come from nearby localities, university students come from afar. They travel across their districts, their states, and the country to realize their dreams. Thus you will find the greatest amount of diversity in these students of higher-ed institutions – rural and urban, poor, middle-class and rich, from different religions, castes, and backgrounds. During this crisis and lockdown, when classes can not be conducted on the university premises, institutions are adopting digital tools for delivering lectures to students now back in their homes.

Many instructors and universities have leveraged ICT and tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype and Microsoft teams to impart live classes to the students. Universities have already started conducting exams and taking assignment submissions online. This is a great way to make education more accessible during these tough times. However, this access is not going to be uniform across all the students belonging to different sections of society.

The poor students are going to be affected the most during this period. Their access to appropriate devices like laptops and computers is going to be very difficult during this period. According to the India Internet 2019 Report, 99% of users in the country access the internet through mobiles, not laptops or computers. Laptops and desktops usage is only 2% and 1% respectively in rural areas and 6% and 4% respectively in urban areas of the country. Further, internet penetration is still very poor and stands at a mere 27% in rural India. Under the Bharat Net program of the Government of India, more than 40% of the villages are yet to be connected to the internet grid.

Thus, lack of access to the internet and proper devices is going to negatively impact students in leveraging online platforms. Many such students will not be able to attend online classes and participate in assignments and exams that are conducted online. In such a scenario, the rural students are in a disadvantageous position and the urban and rural poor students will be highly disadvantaged.

Recognizing this challenging situation during COVID-19, many universities such as MIT and Harvard have announced that they will either provide every student with a Pass or A/A- grades during this semester. Steps like this ensure fairness and empathize with students facing difficulties due to their prevailing circumstances.

In India, however, no debate or discussion is going on this pressing matter yet. It is an important issue affecting the future of the students who are the future of the country. UGC and deemed universities must provide suitable guidelines to ensure students are promoted to the next level fairly. It is a tough situation concerning the poor and the marginalized students and it must be dealt with utmost empathy. Keeping in mind the “digital divide” all further exams and assignments during the rest of the semester must be made voluntary. All students must be promoted to the next level. Alternatively, institutions can use the tests conducted so far as the basis for final assessments in a fair manner.

Unless such corrective measures are taken urgently, COVID-19 and the after-effects are going to deepen the divide across the poor and the rich students, rural and urban students for generations to come.

This blog is authored by Chaitanya Prakash Namburi. The author has a Masters in Public Policy and Computer Science and currently works for Google India. All views expressed are personal.

Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity for India

This is 4th day of the lock down. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared 21 days lock down amidst corona virus pandemic all over the country starting from March 24th, 2020. The situation is quite grim. People are panic buying and many migrant workers are stranded in different parts of the country due to the unprecedented shutdown of transportation mediums.

When I sat on my desk to write this blog, India already had more than 900 cases. I have no idea, by the time, I finish this blog, how many corona virus cases will be detected in India. As per one article, India can see 30,000 Covid-19 deaths by May 2020 and there will not be any hospital beds left by June 2020.

Health has never been a priority for a diverse, heterogeneous and poor country like India. It can be ascertained with the fact that the first National Health Policy for India came in the year 1983 after 35 years of the existence of the Indian republic. Till now, we have only three National Health Policies in place released in the year 1983, 2002 and 2017.

India spends less than 2 % of GDP on health when it has 18% of the world’s population. Not only the whole country gave health a low priority but also other stakeholders. For instance- National political parties relegated the health as a non-issue when it comes to policy priorities for the development of the country.

India has a very low HDI index and high HDI rankings over the years. India was ranked 129 out of 189 countries in the 2019 Human Development Index rankings. Health(Life-expectancy at Birth) is one of the three dimensions to decide HDI rankings. HDI ranking has stagnated in recent years despite India being the fastest growing economy of the world.

The primary health care infrastructure of the country is in shambles due to lack of financing and acute shortage of medical personnel. 65% of health expenditure is out of pocket and some 57 million people are sent to poverty every year due to this expenditure. India has a severe shortage of trained medical professionals. As per the Economic Survey 2019-20, the doctor-population ratio is 1:1456 against the WHO recommendation of 1:1000. India has the largest number of malnutrition children.

The substandard performance of India’s healthcare system is out in the public amidst the corona virus outbreak. However, this crisis is an opportunity for India to make India’s healthcare system best in the world. Systematic overhauling of health infrastructure is the need of the hour. Heath as an issue needs to be prioritized. It needs to become a matter of great importance politically, economically and socially.

Politically, ‘right to health’ needs to be recognized as the fundamental right through an act of parliament. Some of India’s states have better healthcare indicators. Heath is a state subject under the Constitution of India. Best practices from different states need to be replicated across India. Panchayati Raj Institutions can play a major role in providing leadership to deal with any health crisis.

Economically, health expenditure to India’s GDP should reflect the proportion of the population living in India. The current expenditure is inadequate. The government of India must increase its expenditure at least by 5 % of its GDP from this year itself. Other measures like public-private partnership, increasing health insurance penetration etc should go on simultaneously.

Socially, awareness towards cleanliness and sanitation needs to increase in our country. Maintaining hygiene should be declared as an ‘issue of national importance’. People should also vote for those representatives who give importance to the issues of education, health, employment, etc.

This is a high time to realize the value of health as we can see, how corona virus outbreak has affected every aspect of human lives. Health is one of the most important ingredients in ‘human development approach’ Healthy human beings can only bring overall development and growth in the world.

This corona virus pandemic is an opportunity for India to create a world- class health infrastructure, strengthen public institutions, adopt best practices from other countries, increase public health expenditure by 5 % of its GDP, and declare “right to health” as a fundamental right for the people of India.

This blog has been republished by Social Development for Communities Foundation. Please find the link here.