With the social inequity in online education coming to the fore due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centre has proposed long-term measures to bridge the divide, including plans to distribute laptops or tablets to 40% of all college and university students over the next five years, and to equip all government schools with information and communication technology.
In a presentation to the Finance Commission on Monday, the School Education department also estimated it would need to spend upto ₹1 lakh per school for sanitisation and quarantine measures in preparation for the safe reopening of schools that have been shut due to the pandemic. The measures would include ensuring basic water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, safe drinking water, availability of alcohol rub/sanitiser, disinfectant, cleaning material and equipment for temperature checking.
Funds for these measures are being provided under the composite grant for schools, ranging between ₹25,000 for small schools with less than 100 students and ₹1 lakh for schools with over a thousand students, according to the presentation to the Commision. In order for government schools to be reopened, funds will also be provided for awareness and community mobilisation to sensitise parents, students and local leaders, as well as a sum of ₹1,000 per teacher to encourage them to function as first-level counsellors, disseminate basic information about COVID-19 and provide digital/online/mobile education.
For the 3.1 lakh government schools above upper primary level who do not have ICT facilities, the Centre proposes a budget of ₹55,840 crore to equip them with such facilities.
For college and university students, the promotion of online education, which has become more urgent due to the pandemic, will be two-fold. On the one hand, the Human Resource Development Ministry proposes to spend ₹2,306 crore on developing and translating digital course content and resources over the next five years.
On the other, it intends to provide laptops and tablets to 4.06 crore students — that is, 40% of the projected student population — by 2026, at a total cost of ₹60,900 crore. The largest chunk of 1.5 crore students are to receive devices in the next financial year 2021-22. An average cost of ₹15,000 has been assumed per device. The Centre and States are to share the cost of making devices available, in a 60:40 ratio, according to the presentation to the Finance Commission.