On-Line Digital Learning: Are We Ready?

Online education in India, Profitable for Students or Owners 2023

A Note by Prof. Arun C Mehta, Former professor, NIEPA, New Delhi

Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, since the third week of March 2020, the entire Country is under lockdown. Schools are closed down because of which students are offered online content but many are facing difficulty in getting access to contents because of lack of digital devices. In this note, an attempt has been made to assess readiness to receive online content.

Rather than students as a unit of on-line education, better to make household as a unit of online education because of the availability of the digital platform, on-line education must be provided. A few households may not have got access to any digital device but may have Radio and/or mobile phone with FM receiving facility. A few others may have got only Television Sets with or without DTH facility. Besides, few households might have got access to a smartphone with limited or no internet facility. Few others maybe only a few households, especially in the rural areas might have got access to a smartphone with 4G connectivity. Contrary to which a few households might have got access to a computer or laptop and/or smartphone with data plans and/or Radio and TV with DTH connection. Depending upon the availability of the digital platform, the household may be categorized into those who can access (i) on-line (ii) off-line or (iii) partially online content.

Recent Documents on Online & ICT in Education
Technology Use & ICT: National Policy on Education (NPE 2020)
India Report on Digital Education: 2020
Guidelines for Digital Educcation: PRAGYATA, NCERT (2020)
Future of the Classroom: Emerging Trends in K12 Education: GOOGLE
Digital Iniatives on Higher Education: eBrochure (MHRD)
National Mission on ICT in Education: MHRD, Mission Statement
MOOC & Swayam: Finance Norms, MHRD
Online Learning Resources: MHRD
Swayam Guidelines Amendment, 2018, MHRD
COVID19: A Booster for the EDITECH  Industy in India
Indian National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO: Response to COVID19 
Myths of Online Education-by-Azim-Premiji-University-September-2020

Computer & Internet Facility in India
To know more about the availability of digital mode at household, it is important to analyze NSSO 75th Round of data on education conducted during the period July 2017 to June 2018. During this round, information on ICT in general and (i) whether the household had a computer and (ii) internet facility while for each person age 5 years and above was collected. Also, HH’s ability to operate  (i) computer, (ii) use the internet, and (iii) whether the HH used the internet during the last 30 days was also collected. Unfortunately, information on the availability of all devices such as, desktop computer, laptop computer, notebook, notebook, palmtop, tablet, etc was collected but one of the most easily accessible devices these days, namely Smart Phone, no information was collected in view of which the NSSO 2017-18 data may be considered as revealing incomplete information about the availability of devices in Households. Still, it provides useful information about the availability and use of ICT devices in both rural as well as urban areas which is briefly analyzed below:

The table presented above reveals that only 10.7 percent of the total households in India have got a computer and another 23.8 percent have got access to internet facilities. But the same in the rural areas is as low as 4.4 and 14.9 percent respectively as against 23.4 and 42 percent in the urban areas; thus showing a wide gap in the availability of computers and access to internet facility between rural and urban areas.State-specific availability of computers and access to internet facilities further reveals a wide-spread gap between states. On the one hand, Delhi reported having the computer in its 34.7 percent of the total Households and another 55.7 percent has got access to the internet as against only 4.6 and 15.4 percent households respectively in one of the largest states, namely Bihar. However, the same in the case of Odisha concerning the availability of computers is as low as 4.2 percent which has also got the lowest percentage (10 percent) of households have got access to internet facility. One can easily understand, how households in India in general and located in the rural areas would have got access to online content offered to their children during COVID19. In the rural areas, Jharkhand has got the lowest percentage of HHs having a computer (1.3 percent) as against 5.8 percent of households in Odisha having got access to internet facility.Ability to use Computer & Internet Facility: India, Population 5 year & above
The percentage use of Computer and Internet Facilities for the population 5 years and above presented below reveals that only 16.5 percent of people in this age group can use the computer as against 20.1 percent use internet out of which 17.6 percent used the internet during the last 30 days from the day of the survey. The percentage is as low as 9.9, 13.0 and 10.8 percent respectively in the rural areas compared to which percentage in the urban areas is much higher at 32.4, 37.1 and 33.8 percent respectively but still a majority of population both in the rural and urban areas do not know how to operate both computer and internet. Further, a wide-gap has also been observed between males and females using the computer and internet which is true for both the rural and urban areas. In rural areas, only 7 percent of females reported having the ability to operate computers as against 12.6 percent internet facility. The corresponding percentages for the ability to use the internet are 17.1 (male) and 8.5 percent (female) in the rural areas against 37.5 (male) and 26.9 (female) percentage population know computer operation and 43.5 (male) and 30.1 (female) percent know internet operation in the urban areas.

online education

A state-wise percentage of 5+ population having the ability to operate a computer and use internet facility separately in the rural and urban areas also reveals wide-spread variation across states. Bihar with 8 percent, Jharkhand with 8.2 percent and Odisha with 8.5 percent has the lowest percentage of the population who can operate computer against 42.8 percent population in Delhi and 41.5 percent in Kerala know computer operation incidentally which is the highest amongst major states.  In the rural areas, the percentage is even further low as only 6.3 percent of 5+ population know computer operation in Bihar against 39.2 percent in Kerala.  Further, significant variation is observed in the case of male and female operating computers and internet facilities. It may also be of interest to observe that male-female variation both in the case of a population of 5+ who can operation both computers and the internet is more in urban areas than the same in the rural areas.

online education

The above analysis of NSSO 75 Round data (2017-18) reveals that all households are not yet fully equipped to receive online content. Even if they can receive, most of them are not able to use it which is reflected in the NSSO 5+ population able to use the computer as well as the internet all which raises serious issues about the reach and use of on-line contents made available in different forms across the country.

How Teaching-Learning Changed after COVID19: The Hindustan Times, 29th August 2023

How Teaching-Learning Changed after COVID19: The Hindustan Times, 29th August 2023

The above analysis of available data is presented because of users but are our teachers equipped to handle the task efficiently concerning the development of contents and conduct on-line classes? or they are supposed to use the contents developed and made available by other agencies?  How teachers are equipped about imparting online classes is also indirectly reflected in schools having got access to computer and internet connectivity which is latest available for the year 2017-18 in the public domain through U-DISE which is briefly analyzed below. It may also be of interest to know that of the total 9.24 million teachers who impart school education, about 20 percent of teachers are not professionally trained. Incidentally, more than 85 percent of teachers in government schools are professionally qualified but the percentage of untrained teachers in the case of private and aided schools is as high as 27.43 percent.  On the other hand, the qualification of a few teachers is below secondary (0.49 percent) and 5.83 percent Higher Secondary level but good to know that majority of teachers are graduates and postgraduates (76.16 percent). Even 1.08 percent of teachers are having M.Phil degree holders as against -.46 percent teachers having acquired a P.Hd degree. Besides, the percentage of contractual teachers is high which has increased during the recent past as many states have discontinued the recruitment of regular teachers. In addition to about 20 percent of teachers not having adequate professional qualification, about 6.74 percent of schools are single-teacher and 2.51 percent government schools, single-classroom school; how they manage schools even on normal days is a moot question forget about on-line learning during COVID days all which raises serious issues about the real implementation and impact of online learning. It is disappointed to further know that only 59.18 percent of the total 1.5 million schools (all) have regular HMs posted in schools compared to which the same in case of primary-only school is only 45.54 percent indicating no leadership[p available in case of about 54  percent primary schools in the country in 2017-18.

Schools having Electricity & Computer Facility: 2017-18

Schools having electricity connection, computer, functional computer, and internet connection presented at the all-India level for the year 2017-18 and in a few selected states reveal that our schools are not equipped to meet challenges paused by the pandemic. Even the basic requirement such as, the electricity connection is yet to be provided to the majority of schools which is true for both the rural and urban areas. A glance at the table reveals that of the total 1.5 million schools engaged in school education in the country, only 63.14 percent of schools have got the electricity connection compared to a little more than 50 percent of such primary schools. It is also true that just schools having electricity connections don’t necessarily mean that schools get an uninterrupted power supply. It has also been observed in the past that schools generally do not have separate funds to pay electricity bills because of which generally observed that even schools have a connection but they do not have in real power in school. May be The Saubhagya Scheme or Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana launched by the Prime Minister will help electricity reach our remaining schools.

Percent of Schools having Electricity, Computer and Internet Connectivity in School



Primary Only Schools All Schools
Electricity Connection 51.85 63.14
Computer 12.20 29.57
Internet Connection 3.54 13.61
Functional Computer 4.19 13.07
Computer Laboratory

(Hr. Secondary Schools)


Source: U-DISE

Another crucial indicator is the availability of computers and internet connection in schools both of which are yet to be provided in the majority of schools in India. Of the total 1.5 million schools, only about 20 percent of schools have got a computer as against 12.20 percent such primary schools. Unfortunately, the percentage of working/functional computers in schools is as low as 13.07 percent (all schools) and 4.19 percent (primary only schools. The state-wise percentage of schools with working computers further reveals that the same in Bihar is as low as 0.51 percent compared to 3 percent in Uttar Pradesh, about 5 percent in Jharkhand, 4 percent in Assam, 5 percent in Madhya Pradesh, and 3 percent in Odisha. On the other hand, schools in a few states such as Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, and Gujarat have got electricity connections in schools but the percentage of schools with a working computer, except Delhi (68.25 percent) is still very low. Schools with working computers need not have internet connection as only about 14 percent of schools have internet connection compared to only about 4 percent of primary schools.


Schools having Electricity, Computer and Internet Connectivity in Schools (All) in Selected States



Assam Bihar Jharkhand Odisha UP MP Andhra Pradesh Delhi Gujarat All India
Electricity Connection 24.28 45.82 47.46 36.50 44.76 32.58 92.80 99.93 99.91 63.14
Functional Computer 3.98 0.51 4.84 3.22 3.17 5.99 24.03 68.25 38.65 13.07

Source: U-DISE

Despite the lack of digital devices to receive on-line content, both in the households and also in schools, online education in different modes was launched during COVID19 which may have further widened the inequalities across the country. Any Where-Any Mode-Any Time Education in different modes, such as audio, video multi-media, etc is being widely used across the country. Are the deprived further at the disadvantage stages? Limited information available on this aspect suggests so, see the box below. It may be recalled that the Government of India announced the nation-wide lockdown on March 23, 2020, following which both the Central as well as State Governments promptly made available online resources on different platforms (laptops, desktops, and mobile phones and also through Radio and Television Sets) most of which were already available in the public domain but altogether were made available at one place some of which are mentioned below. Despite all efforts, the limited available information all suggest that the contents are yet to reach all segments of the population (about 240 million students)  because of the adequate device at household/home and those who could get access all of them couldn’t use the resources because of the one or the other reason. The government of India has also specified its e-learning priorities with Grades 9 to 12 having an enrolment of 63 million is given the top priority followed by Grades 6 to 8 (64 million enrolment) with the next

Digital divide is stark, online education still far from reality: ASER

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the huge push, only one third of India’s school children are pursuing online education and a smaller cohort of this 32.5% are doing live online classes, the Annual Status of Education Report showed Wednesday underlining how the digital divide is still wide in the school sector.

While just 11% of all the students enrolled in both private and government schools were using online classes, another 21.5% were using videos or recorded classes. And if you take the government school children alone, then only 8.1% enrolled children were using online classes across the country.

The impact of COVID-19 on Education in India: Challenges &  Solutions for Remote Learning

And this despite the smart phone ownership in students household jumping significantly between 2018 and 2020, the ASER report by education non-profit Pratham showed. “Among enrolled children, more than 60% live in families with at least one smartphone. This proportion has increased enormously in the last two years, from 36.5% to 61.8% among enrolled children. The percentage point increase is similar in households of children enrolled in government and private schools,” the report said.

While Indian families have not acquired other assets like TV and vehicle between 2018 and 2020, the smartphone ownership has gone up significantly. For example, the percentage of households where children’s are enrolled in government schools has jumped from 29.6% in 2018 to 56.2% in 2020 and in households where children are in private schools, smartphone ownership has gone up to 74.2% in 2020, its 24 percentage point more than what it was in 2018. But there are states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, and Tripura, who have reported more than 30 percentage points in the proportion of children whose families own a smartphone include. It indicates that while a basic digital backbone is getting ready at household level, the country has not developed an eco-system for pushing digital education in a crisis period.

“The government has put a lot of efforts and others have put in efforts but we need to invest more in bettering the digital infrastructure for improving the life and learning of students,” said Vineet Nayar, Chairman of Sampark Foundation and a former chief executive of HCL Technologies Ltd. Sampark works in the school education sector. The report further said though although a lot of digital content has been generated and transmitted to help children continue to learn, there is limited evidence on the extent to which this content is reaching children; whether they are engaging with it; and the impact it is having on their participation and learning.

But there is a good news the policy makers can take comfort in.

At the all India level, there is a small shift towards government schools between 2018 and 2020 September across all grades and among both girls and boys. The proportion of boys enrolled in government schools rose from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020. Similarly, the proportion of girls enrolled in government schools rose from 70% to 73% during the same period. But there is a rider, this could be partially because of economic hardship and private schools in rural India closing down fully post the pandemic, the report said.

Similarly, more than 80% children have textbooks for their current grade. This proportion is higher among students enrolled in government schools (84.1%) than in private schools (72.2%). Across states, the proportion of children with textbooks at home falls below 70% in only three states: Rajasthan (60.4%), Telangana (68.1%), and Andhra Pradesh (34.6%).

Source: Mint, October 28, 2020 by Prashant K Nanda

priority and Grades 1 to 5 (120 million enrolment), the last priority.  But it is a fact that households having got access to devices has improved significantly since the year 2018. Pratham’s recent study reveals that about  62 percent of the total families in India now have got access to a smartphone (see the box below). Besides, the proportion of boys enrolled in government schools having smartphone increased from 62.8% in 2018 to 66.4% in 2020 against an increase from 70% to 73% in the case of the household having girls during the same period all of which suggests that our households though slowly but surely gearing up to have smart devices at home which shall eventually help us in taking contents to more and more households. However, in the absence of electricity in households, charging smartphones is another hurdle in accessing contents online. Lack of digital skills amongst parents, especially in the rural areas in the case of students at primary level is another major hurdle children accessing digital content at home. In addition, children are also engaged in helping their parents in their work. More children from the general class are seen using online content than children from the socially deprived section of the society. The study conducted by the UNICEF in collaboration with the Maharashtra SCERT also reveals that only half of students of Grades I to VIII in government schools in Maharashtra have got access to online learning. The study also reveals that 72 percent of families in Maharashtra lack digital skills and only 66 families do not have access to smartphones as compared to 57 percent of students have got access to internet connectivity. All the available evidence indicates

 Government’s Online Learning Resources

DIKSHA: Online platform for school education for teachers, parents and students (Grades I to XII)

e-PATHSHALA: NCERT’s Web portal and mobile app which  has audios, videos, e- e-books and Flip Books for Grades I to XII.

SWAYAM: National online education platform hosting courses for both school (class IX to XII) &  Higher Education (both UG and PG) in all subjects which are made available free of cost to any learner in the country.

SWAYAM PRABHA: Has DTH TV channels transmitting educational contents for both school and higher education on 24/7 basis which is being received across the country by using DD free Dish set top box and antenna.

NISHTHA: An integrated Teacher Training Portal & Moblie Applications.

UNIVERSITY GRANTS COMMISSION (UGC): College & Higher Education learning

NATIONAL DIGITAL LIBRARY: This is a digital repository of a vast amount of academic content in different formats.

NIOS: For students enrolled with NIOS

Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU): Online contents for all levels of higher education


the digital divide between rural and urban areas and also between general and ST/ST students. In addition, government schools are also required to be geared up to take care of additional students who have migrated from the private schools many of which now during the pandemic have closed down or simply the parents are not in opposition to pay the fee. Efforts must be initiated to ensure that after the COVID is over, more jobs are available or salaries are restored these children are not migrated back to private schools.

Recommended Screen Time

(Source: PRAGYATA: Guidelines got Digital Learning, Department of Literacy & School Education, MHRD, Government of India)

In view of serious loss of learning because of the pandemic, UNESCO’s session on October 22 was convened to protect and promote education at a time when education financing is at considerable risk of being left behind in the governments’ domestic budgets, stimulus packages, and international aid, the UN agency said (HT, 25th September 2020) all which shows the situation of learning because of the pandemic is serious. However, online education has opened up a lot of opportunities for both educators/teachers and learners/students. With experience and proper policy and honest efforts may result in India march-ahead which may become an example for other countries as well.
Recent Research on Online Learning (Digital Learning)

In a recent study on Myths of Online Education, The Azim Premji University in September 2020 conducted a study to understand the challenges experienced by children and teachers in the implementation of online learning solutions within the public school system in India Executive Summary of which is presented below.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to disruptions in all walks of life. Schools, colleges and all other academic institutions have been forced to look for alternatives to ensure continuity in learning. In the past six months, across the world, various digital or ICT-based learning options have been explored. Most of these options have proved to be sub-optimal, pedagogically unsound and inadequate substitutes of face-to-face interactions. For school-going children, these have been particularly ineffective due to the deeply intimate nature of learning that is needed in the formative years of schooling. Not only that, the lack of access to devices and infrastructure has led to several children being left out from the process of learning. Emerging evidence also reveals that the endorsement of online learning solutions is often closely tied to the influence of market-based solutions, commercialisation of education, and a lack of belief and investment in the professional capacity of teachers. With this backdrop, the Field Research Group at the Azim Premji Foundation undertook a study covering 1,522 teachers (in 1,522 schools) and 398 parents in the public school system across 26 districts in five states. 1 These schools have more than 80,000 children from the most disadvantaged geographies across India. The objective of the study was to understand the challenges experienced by children and teachers in the implementation of online learning solutions within the public school system. The survey tools for teachers and parents were implemented primarily through telephonic discussions and were supplemented with a few open-ended questions for the teachers. The survey of teachers and parents reveals the ineffectiveness of online learning solutions in providing meaningful learning opportunities, exclusion of majority of children due to poor access, and the professional frustration of teachers (see, Box 1). This resonates with the findings from a recent rapid survey report that underscores the exclusion of over 80% students in public schools due to dependence on technology and ‘the complete lack of capacity building/support by state governments to deliver education digitally’ (Vyas 2020). Our study also reveals that contrary to popular beliefs, most parents are eager to send their children to schools with necessary health safeguards and do not think that health of their children would be affected in such an event”
Myths of Online Education-by-Azim-Premiji-University-September-2020 (Study Conducted by Azim Premji University, September 2020)

Forty Years of Arun C Mehta at NIEPA: 1980 to 2019 (e-Book)

Forty years of Arun C Mehta at NIEPA: 1980 to 2019

Times of India, New Delhi, 21st September 2021

UDISE, Interview of Prof. Arun C Mehta in Times of India, New Delhi, 21st September 2021