The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown before us unforeseen circumstances. It has forced us to adapt to situations which would have been inconceivable before. Be it the restriction on travelling or attending social gatherings, there have been several lifestyle changes that everyone has had to make. The most interesting of these for students, however, is bound to be the paradigm shift to online learning. Never would it have been possible earlier to attend classes from the comfort of your bed with the air conditioner running in the background while you are comfortably nestled in one corner scrolling through social media. But that is just you and me. What about the plight of the 320 million students who want to attend classes but are unable to do so? Does the Indian law provide any such remedy to them? Can we, as citizens with considerable means at our disposal, do something to help them?


The 12 years of education are crucial for every student and are the base years that will support the upward social and economic mobility of people. In response to the pandemic, the government quickly shifted to “online teaching.” Remote learning is undoubtedly a viable option for some relatively privileged class of students to obtain convenient and affordable access to education during these trying times. However, the immense digital divide present in India is an issue which needs immediate attention.

According to the National Sample Survey of 2017-18, only 23% of Indian households had internet access. Further, only 12.8% of the students have access to smartphones thus imparting education in such a situation has become an issue. India’s response to the situation in terms of sustaining children’s access to education has been to facilitate remote learning through smartphone apps and broadcasting lessons on the TV as well as the radio. Many Indian states have implemented daily televised lectures with specific channels allocated for the same. These measures preclude the rural and urban poor with limited or no access to electricity and network resources. Rural areas, which contribute to 68.84% of the population, only 14.9% had internet access. This leads to a major challenge that needs to be addressed: In the current scenario of closed schools and online education, what about those students who do not have means to access this new form of imparting education? 6 months into the lockdown and this question still begs to be answered.


A pertinent question, that has gone largely unanswered during this pandemic, is, how the right to education can be guaranteed to students without access to the requisite infrastructure. The entire expectation that students buy devices at their own cost to access education that should ideally be free to them under the provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, is contrary to the spirit of the Act itself. Introduced in April 2010, the Act acknowledges the responsibility of the state to provide free and compulsory education to all children between six to fourteen years of age. It provides, under section 3(2), that no child shall be liable to pay any fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing their elementary education. Therefore, the expectation of children buying smartphones to access online classes, however reasonable, can be deemed contrary to the provisions of this Act.

Students all over the country have been suffering due to this pandemic. They have been unable to attend classes and receive an education that they would have under normal circumstances. Past evidence suggests that even a short-term disruption in schooling leads to permanent dropouts among the poor. One reason behind this is the loss of parents’ employment which decreases the earning capacity of households and increases the opportunity cost of sending children to school. Some state governments like Harayana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh have initiated waivers in the tuition fees during the lockdown period; the private schools are reluctant in doing the same. People have been forced to resort to desperate measures to attend their classes. Be it parents selling their means of livelihood to provide a smartphone for their children to attend classes, or a 70-seat boat operating for just one passenger, the pandemic has truly made us witness stories we would not have thought believable earlier. There have also been several reports of student suicides caused by the ‘education crisis’. While there have been contradicting reports of the number of suicides, it is safe to say that there has been a considerable number during the Lockdown period.


Now that we have understood the problem, we must realise what solutions we have to offer. While it is an undeniable fact that school closures are necessary to manage the spread of COVID-19, it must be remembered that education is a human right. 

● The Central government has recently launched the PM e-VIDYA platform, with 12 new DTH channels, one for each class to reach out to all strata of society. These efforts have proved beneficial to a sizable chunk of the school-going population. 

● Data packages for students, TV broadcasted classes and regular SMS/IVR to parents for daily activities with children are currently underway which will be a positive step.

● Initiatives to cushion the economic impact on poor families and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that children remain in school will help in managing the effect of the pandemic. 

● The issue of mental stress faced by young children either due to reduced mobility or economic condition of their family has remained completely absent from the current discourse. 

● Health and economy occupy the centre stage in the current situation, however educational and nutritional considerations must not be forgotten to not undo the hard-earned gains in these sectors over the past few decades.

● However, it is not only the duty of the Central or State Governments to help people during this crisis. While there is no legal duty cast upon the people, citizens must come together to combat this crisis. Be it contributing to trusted local NGOs or relief funds, each citizen has a role to play.