Learn From Home Activity Package For Download


Our Girls Who Code Clubs program is an intervention that helps us reach kids in govt schools beyond technical skills, and go deep into areas like personality development and gender issues. We decided to launch the #LearnFromHome campaign to help our kids stay on track even while at home. When the whole world was busy adjusting to WFH as the new norm, we were trying hard to make the transition smooth for kids, who have also had to adapt to a remote learning situation. In collaboration with our partner @girlswhocode we created an activity packet that entails a combination of tech and personality based skills that we will continue to share with our students over the next 10 weeks.

You can download them here!




A sector-specific look into technological inequalities today

Though the acceleration of technology penetration – accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic –  has taken place across many sectors, there are some areas in which the digital divide has been felt most acutely. Here are three examples:

Education

As schools, colleges and universities shuttered at the start of the nationwide lockdown, many parents and students found their  usual in-class learning taking place primarily at home

Educational technology, or edtech, has long been seen as the future for a country in which education is largely viewed as a pathway to self-improvement. While India saw the launch of 4,450 edtech startups from 2014 to 2019, COVID-19 proved to be an accelerant for this trend. From virtual teaching platforms, to open-source curriculum databases, to online test prep software, edtech solutions promise to make learning more flexible and accessible. However, as the millions of Indian students currently learning remotely can attest, these solutions are only meaningful for those with stable, consistent internet access. While schools in wealthy urban areas have taken advantage of virtual learning as a method to establish educational continuity, students from rural areas and lower-income backgrounds are often given paper workbooks and exercises with little follow-up from their schools. And even for those students with internet access, lack of vernacular-language solutions means limited options compared to their English-speaking counterparts. While edtech might be the next big transformation in the education sector, its implementation has the potential to further widen the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income students across India.


Formal Employment Sector

The pandemic has also highlighted an ever-growing divide between those members of the formal and informal sectors of the Indian economy.

 A 2018 report from the International Labor Organisation found that close to 81% percent of the working population of India make a living by working in the informal sector. “Informal” employment comprises many jobs in agriculture, domestic and service workers, industrial and factory work as well as food and grocery services. While the majority of professional, formal sector employees were able to take advantage of virtual conferencing and team productivity software to continue remote work during the lockdown, most informal workers found themselves suddenly jobless and without an income source. Though work and productivity tech solutions might make formal sector jobs more resilient, they are also widening the gap between workers.


Healthcare

Over the last few months, reliable access to healthcare and medical services has become more essential than ever.

Telehealth and other digital health technologies  have seen a growth in popularity as worried Indians try to seek medical advice without visiting overwhelmed hospitals or violating local lockdowns. Startups such as Practo are experiencing an almost 100% week on week increase in users on their platform searching for counsel on COVID-19 and other medical needs. In the future, digital health technologies have the ability to expand rural health delivery and enhance limited healthcare infrastructure. At the moment, however, they are a false promise. During a pandemic, in a country where 60% of doctors serve only 30% of the population,  urban patients receive care while hospitals in rural villages turn away patients due to lack of resources and protective equipment. As it currently stands, it is clear that healthcare technology developments prioritize the comfort of the few over the welfare of the many.

If you would like to read more about this and learn what can be done to create a more equal and inclusive future for all, please read more here.




#DoingTheRightThing: Four outstanding stories of support during COVID-19

These four individuals and organizations throughout different sectors of Indian society are stepping up to #DoingTheRightThing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic

 

 


Individual: Barkha Dutt

When COVID-19 started spreading around India in mid-March, Barkha Dutt and her four-person team were called to act and investigate the emerging crisis. Over the last 86 days, the journalist and author has been on the road, travelling to ten different states across India to cover the impacts of the nationwide lockdown and the humanitarian 

crisis of stranded migrant workers. Dutt’s on-ground reports, posted on Twitter and her independent YouTube news outlet, Mojo Story, called attention to the widespread struggles of low-income and migrant workers at a time when the subject was getting little coverage on mainstream media sources. With her commitment to fighting for truth and equity, Dutt has demonstrated the power of grassroots level media and reporting during this pandemic.

 

 


Private Sector: Dunzo
Bangalore-based local-delivery startup, Dunzo, has taken the logistical challenges posed by the nationwide lockdown and worked to turn them into an opportunity to support their communities. The technology company typically provides a wide range of delivery services including prepared food and groceries, pet supplies and interpersonal package delivery. However, after the first weeks of lockdown, Dunzo chose to focus solely on the delivery of essential groceries and medicines. Narrowing this scope ensured that they could provide families with the essential products that they required all while keeping them safely at home. Also extremely important during this time has been the safety and wellbeing of their delivery partners. In addition to providing all partners with personal protective equipment, Dunzo employees pooled a portion of their salaries to include in a crowdsourced fund for delivery partners’ financial support.

 


Social Sector: GOONJ

Indian disaster-relief NGO, GOONJ, has taken the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to leverage existing expertise while also expanding into new areas of aid. As part of their #RahatCOVID19 campaign, GOONJ has been working in 12 states across the expanse of India to provide prepared food through community kitchens and ration kits to low-income and migrant workers. Utilizing their existing network of volunteers and contributors in the area of textile-repurposing, GOONJ has also moved towards the production of protective face masks and sanitary cloth pads to distribute throughout their partner communities. And in the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Amphan that hit Eastern India, GOONJ has worked to provide immediate food and maintenance relief while ensuring the health and welfare of all affected.

 

 


Public Sector: Indian Railways 

At the start of the nationwide lockdown at the end of March, Indian Railways faced its first complete shutdown in the national railway system’s 167-year history. However, Indian Railways quickly found another way to help during this time. Given the large number of empty, out of use train cars that were sitting idle in stations throughout the country, Indian Railways devised a plan to convert these cars into quarantine wards for possible COVID-19 patients. By turning coach beds into patient beds and parking the cars in areas where this is access to power and a pantry, Indian Railways was able to significantly increase India’s capacity for isolation wards. More recently, Indian Railways Shramik Special train service has also begun to provide subsidized transport for stranded migrant workers to reach their home villages.

 




Digital Disparities: Technology and Inequality in a Post-COVID World


Over the last three months, many of us have felt the increased penetration of technology in our daily lives. In-person meetings have been replaced with video conference calls. Children’s lessons are now carried out through some combination of online learning, Whatsapp groups and phone calls. Social media networks have become more vital than ever to stay in touch with loved ones both near and far. Though the role of technology in our daily lives has been increasing steadily over the past decade, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this transformation to an unprecedented pace. According to Microsoft, the number of users utilizing its online software for collaboration climbed nearly 40% in a week at the start of the pandemic.

This digital acceleration has played out over a backdrop of economic devastation at the hands of India’s nationwide lockdown and social distancing measures. The International Monetary Fund projects India’s growth rate at 1.9 percent for the current year, down from 5.8% in January, while the global economy heads for the worst recession in nearly a century. This devastation will be felt most acutely by India’s most vulnerable, millions of whom are already facing the long-term loss of employment and many who were already living in poverty or will be pushed back into poverty as result of the pandemic.


This moment, more than any in recent memory has highlighted the inequalities embedded in our modern society. While millions of displaced migrant workers flowed out of major Indian cities to walk back to their native villages at the start of April, the elite of those same cities sat comfortably at home, their jobs protected by their ability to work remotely. Though innovative new technologies bring with them the promise of progress in many sectors including education, healthcare, that progress will not be equally felt by all. Just as the nationwide lockdown revealed the massive economic and structural divides embedded in modern Indian society, so too will this next wave of digital transformation. If attention isn’t paid to ensuring equity and inclusion in new technological developments, these divides will only grow.

State of the digital divide in India

Even before COVID-19, the digital divide in India kept  nearly half of the country in the dark. Estimates from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India show that India’s total internet density stood at about 627 million users at the end of 2019, or around 49 percent of the population. These numbers reflect a rural-urban divide, with only about 25% of rural areas accessing internet services while internet density is around 98% in urban centres. The nationwide lockdown demonstrated both the appetite for and necessity of internet services in rural areas.  Rural data consumption jumped nearly 100% during this period alongside increased demand for Fiber to Home connections and wifi-hotspots.  This jump reflected rural users clamoring to use these networks to help access government schemes and pandemic-related information, as well as keep in touch with their families and neighbors.


Internet access also breaks down along gender lines. A 2017 report from UNICEF found that only 1 in 3 Indian internet users was female. In households where internet access and resources are scarce, many families prioritize the use of those resources for the male head of household and male children. As access to the internet quickly becomes a bridge for individuals to access the economy at large, the digital divide quickly begins to look like a digital chasm. And COVID-19 has only pushed more people closer to the edge.

Towards a more equitable and inclusive future  

New technologies may exacerbate inequalities present in this current pandemic, but these technologies do have the potential to drive social progress in the future. For this change to take place, government and private sector actors alike will need to build out a technological infrastructure that is centered around equity and inclusion.


One huge step towards an inclusive technological future is the expansion of data and internet access and infrastructure to people in all parts of India. For all India people to participate in the digital economy, and digital society at large,  they must first have consistent, reliable, affordable access to broadband internet. For the majority of Indian villages, this will mean expanding on the government’s BharatNet program. For those in urban areas, this will mean working with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to improve internet performance and subsidize costs. And recognizing the centrality of internet connectivity to modern life also means that the government must cease weaponizing this access in order to achieve political goals.

Additionally, while high-speed broadband and high-tech platforms may be the long-term future, this current moment also requires the development of lower-tech solutions that are accessible to a broader portion of the population. Creating edtech platforms that can run on lower bandwidth internet connections and SMS-centric public health programs are just two ways that tech entrepreneurs and policy-makers can bring more users into the innovation ecosystem. And not only must these solutions be in development, they must receive investment on a similar scale to their high-tech counterparts. While investors might see food-delivery services and fintech solutions as the next big money-makers, choosing to channel money into social-purpose organizations is a proven way to make both a financial and social impact.

There remain many inequalities embedded into Indian society: those between rural and urban areas; informal and formal sectors of the economy; men and women; members of different castes and socio-economic classes. Addressing the increasing expanse in access to technology will not, in itself, address these other inequalities. However, as it occupies an ever-growing role in our daily lives, technology has the power to exacerbate these other inequalities if not consciously developed and regulated. As India looks towards rebuilding from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is faced with an opportunity to assist those for whom the last few months have proved most difficult. Inequality isn’t a new concept, but as we look towards the future, we will determine whether new technologies tighten or broaden these societal gaps.

If you would like to read more about how inequalities are present in three industries, please read more here