Impact of COVID on Education and learning outcomes

India has been one of the hardest-hit countries by COVID-19. Beyond the staggering impact on human life, COVID-19 has greatly disrupted access to education in India, with 247 million primary and secondary school students out of school (UNICEF).


  1. Online education reinforces the digital divide and learning inequality: Students in private schools and those from households with high socioeconomic status (SES) have more access to digital devices and are more engaged in regular educational activities than their peers in government schools and from low-SES households.
  2. Rural-urban divide: The sudden outbreak of the pandemic in 2020 did not give time for the development of technology and the internet. As a result, education in 2020-21 has been far out of reach of rural India.
  3. Gender Disparity: The school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a million more girls and transgender children dropping out before they complete their education. This particularly holds true for children living in poverty, those with a disability or the ones living in rural isolated places. Economic hardships caused by the crisis will have spill-over effects as consider the financial and opportunity costs of educating their daughters.
  4. The disproportionate impact of school closures on marginalised children: The dropout rates among children from the Scheduled Castes (SCs)/ Scheduled Tribes (STs)/ Other Backward Classes (OBCs) is high, especially for secondary education.
  5. Poverty and Inequality: Most families with illiteracy are unable to guide children’s learning which will affect the next generation’s ability to get educated and escape poverty.
  6. Teaching becomes more challenging during school closures: Distance learning has affected the teachers since most of them are teaching remotely for the first time and have limited or no training to do so. Hence, the quality of teaching is likely to be affected. Adapting to new technology from the traditional method a challenging task. Many teachers are looking for an alternative job to support their families.
  7. Nutrition: Disruption in school (midday) meal services affecting the nutrition of children between 6-17 years of age. Also, many students were suffering from not having enough food for their survival.
  8. Increase in out-of-school children (OOSC) during and over the post-COVID-19 period: The discontinuation of children’s education in 62 per cent of the surveyed households with 67 per cent in rural and 55 per cent in urban areas, respectively (Save the Children, 2020)
  9. Child Labour: Widespread unemployment and income loss will hinder the ability of households to pay to keep students in school. This impact will be greater for poorer households who might face budget constraints. This will cause children to drop out of school and be pulled into economic activities to support their parents in earning.  (Child labour among school-going children has increased by 105 per cent during the pandemic in West Bengal)
  10. Children lose out on early childhood care and education (ECCE): Disruption of ICDS services (Anganwadi Centers) due to the lockdown during COVID-19 would have had huge consequences on the health, nutrition, and learning of these children.
  11. Inadequate infrastructure facilities to maintain physical distancing in school: In 19 per cent of schools, the student-classroom ratio (SCR) is 35 and above and in 8.3 per cent of schools, i.e., around 1.3 lakh schools, more than 50 students sit in one classroom (NIEPA, 2017).

Way Forward

  1. The Centre and States together to increase the percent of GDP on school education especially on schemes like Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SMSA) with Specific interventions for mainstreaming OOSC.
  2. Broaden access to continuous and equitable learning opportunities across the student population through steps such as the distribution of textbooks, provision for the supply of free smartphones/laptops/tablets etc.
  3. Ensuring students have access to even low-tech interventions, such as SMS text messages and phone calls, can help mitigate the potential learning losses.
  4. Devise new ways to deliver meals while schools are closed; Take Home Ration (THR) should be fortified with eggs, milk, nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, etc. to enhance diet quality.
  5. Provisions for serving breakfast along with the mid-day meals to improve foundational learning as recommended by the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
  6. Ensure gender-responsive education budgeting is enforced to reduce girls’ absenteeism and dropping out.
  7. Prioritise the distribution of learning materials, accessible and inclusive for all children, particularly disabled girls and girls without access to devices and the internet.
  8. Inclusive learning solutions to be developed, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of society.
  9. Measures to support the well-being, payment and retention of teachers.
  10. Filling the vacant posts of teachers, their training and the recruitment of non-teaching staff; increase investment in school infrastructure as it is necessary for physical distancing norms post covid.

Digital Education in India

The COVID-19 pandemic has no doubt disrupted education and learning as much as any other sector of the economy and civic life. Per UNESCO in April 2020, over 1.5 billion students worldwide were affected by school closures – with over half of those students facing economic and technical barriers to accessing education via other means. In India, over 250 million students faced the prospect of a learning recession due to school closures across the country. Research, across time horizons and geographies, indicates that learning outcomes drop even with short breaks in learning. One can only imagine the impact of the extended lockdowns of the last year. Expectedly, remote and digital learning saw an unprecedented uptake as students, teachers, school systems and policymakers adapted quickly to online classes, content, and learning amidst the shutdowns. Despite inadequate infrastructure and limited connectivity posing challenges, teachers adapted to available digital tools for communication, lesson delivery and student assessments.

The growing popularity of digital education has been propelled by some significant trends in India:

  1. The availability of high-speed internet and affordable smartphone devices have increasingly made it possible for ‘live’ streaming.
  2. A sizeable young population in India, which is quick to adopt new technologies.
  3. Push by many companies towards digital learning for their millennial workforce.
  4. Increasing willingness by teachers including executive education coaches to teach online with similar levels of effectiveness.

Benefits of Digital Education

  1. Easy access to information that is customized and suited to the learning needs of students.
  2. Increased mobility and flexibility give learners the opportunity to choose their time and place of learning.
  3. The use of technology tools helps to make the learning process more interactive and collaborative where all learners converge to create a learning experience that transcends geographical boundaries.
  4. Increased collaboration among teachers and educators in real-time results in ‘Connected Classrooms’ that make way for better coordination and sharing of insights.
  5. A personalized learning experience made possible by the use of technology, helps students to learn at a pace that is best suited to their needs.
  6. Interactive digital tools are way more impactful than printed textbooks. As a result, learners are more actively involved, leading to higher retention and recall of learning material.
  7. Digital learning creates ‘smarter’ students with greater accountability for their learning process stemming from immediate feedback and performance analytics, customized learning paths, peer-benchmarking opportunities and more.
  8. Direct and favourable impact on the environment, owing to the need for less paper, thereby helping to cut costs and maximize resources.
  9. For strengthening digital education in India, the govt. eased regulations on online education and finally allowed universities and colleges to extend >20% of a degree online from 2020 onwards. This initiative has enabled Indian institutes to further improve their portfolio of higher education internationally.
  10. The rising adoption of digital education in India is also attracting global key players to offer online courses to students and extend opportunities to learn new skills. For example, ‘Amazon Academy’.

Leveraging digital solutions in education is a multi-dimensional challenge

Digital access divide

  1. Device access: Urban areas and higher socio-economic groups are over-indexed on device access, even as public schools and rural communities lack access to basic ICT infrastructure such as projectors.
  2. Internet penetration: Low internet access in rural areas, with only 32% of people aged 12+ having access to the internet versus 54% in urban areas, further hampers the ability to adopt digital in education.

Access to relevant content

  1. Quality of content: Access to high-quality, reliable, context-specific, curated content is a key barrier to adopting digital in education for both teaching and lesson planning as well as for delivering relevant materials for practice and self-assessment.
  2. Coverage: Available content on various competencies is often spread out across disparate channels further complicating access and use; especially true for underserved subjects and languages such as Home Science, Urdu and Oriya, etc.
  3. Digital literacy among teachers and students
  4. Digital use cases: According to a BCG survey, only 8.3% of Indian youth and adults reported that they have created electronic presentations, and only 9.1% of Indian youth and adults have transferred files between computers and other devices.

Wide range of application requirements

  1. Range of activities: Wide range of activities in teaching and education – online worksheets, testing and assessments, video-based lesson delivery, multi-modal communication, administration and record-keeping etc. – require several tools and applications.
  2. Integration of tools: Severe lack of interoperability and integrated usage needs pose challenges to adopting cohesive digital methods.

Organizational and bureaucratic engagement

  1. Scalability of solutions: Successful digital education efforts at the small scale have struggled to scale due to the size of India’s public education system with varying contexts even within states.
  2. Organizational coordination: Many levers of organizational and bureaucratic coordination and buy-in are required to migrate to digital solutions.

Digital Education Initiatives

Key initiatives taken by the Indian government to boost digital education activities are as follows:

National Education Policy 2020 (NEP):

  • It puts emphasis on digitisation besides the use of technology in education. It also focuses on EdTech for furthering education, particularly in rural areas. This was mainly done to take quality education to all parts of the country, especially the Tier-2 and 3 cities and villages.

National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR):

  • In the Union Budget 2021-22, the Indian government established the National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR) to strengthen digital infrastructure and support activities related to education planning. The NDEAR aims to offer distinct education ecosystem architecture for the advancement of digital infrastructure in the country and guarantee the autonomy of stakeholders, especially states and UTs.

PM eVIDYA Program:

  • PM eVIDYA program was introduced in 2020 to make e-learning more accessible for Indian students and teachers and promote & strengthen digital education in India. The program aims to converge all activities related to online/digital education and is expected to benefit ~25 crore school students.
  • The program will also encompass designing unique e-content for hearing and visually impaired students and offering radio/podcasts and QR-coded digital textbooks to school students (Classes 1 to 12) on the DIKSHA portal.
  • Under this, the top 100 universities were permitted to begin online courses, provide better learning prospects to 3.7 crores higher education students and enhance e-learning by relaxing the regulatory framework for distance/open/online education.


  • In 2017, the government introduced DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing), a national portal for school education, to offer school curriculum-based engaging learning materials to students, teachers, and parents. The portal supports >18 Indian languages and has been implemented by 35 states/UTs.


  • In 2017, the government launched Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) to offer an integrated platform for online courses at affordable costs to all citizens, especially the underprivileged section in the country.
  • The portal hosts Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to offer quality education on various subjects for students (from Class 9-12 to Under Graduates and Postgraduates).


  • In 2017, SWAYAM PRABHA, a group of 34 DTH (Direct-to-Home) channels dedicated to broadcasting educational programs 24×7, was introduced.
  • The channels broadcast new content for a minimum of four hours every day, and this is repeated five times on the same day for students to select a convenient slot.

e-Pathshala Portal:

  • In 2015, the government launched the ePathshala portal to build a resource store for educational videos, audio, flipbooks, etc. Resources on the portal are available in Indian languages such as Hindi, English and Urdu and can be accessed via smartphones, laptops, desktops and tablets.


  • In FY21, the National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement (NISHTHA) – Phase II was launched at the secondary level to tailor modules for online education. As per the Union Budget 2021-22, ~5.6 million teachers will be trained under the NISHTHA training program in FY22.


  • To offer students a lab learning experience via the Internet, the government introduced OLabs in 2014 for those who do not have access to physical labs.

Virtual Labs

  • The Government of India introduced a pilot virtual lab in 2010 to enable undergraduate and postgraduate students (pursuing science and engineering courses) remotely access the labs and enhance their study experience.
  • The virtual labs offer students a Learning Management System and various study aides such as video lectures, web resources, self-evaluation and animated demonstrations.
  • Along with these, other digital initiatives taken by the government include Shiksha Vani for widespread use of radio, the Central Board of Secondary Education’s (CBSE) podcast, sign language content on the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) website/YouTube and Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY) for accessing special e-content for hearing and visually impaired learners, and Free Open-source Software for Education (FOSSEE).

Operation Digital Board

  • Digital Boards will be introduced all over India in government and government-aided schools from class 9th onwards and higher education institutions.

Importance of digital education

1] Flexibility: Online education enables both the teacher as well as the students to set their own learning pace plus provides the flexibility of setting a schedule that fits everyone’s agenda.

2] A Wide Range of Courses: In a space as vast and wide as the internet, infinite skills and subjects are there to teach and learn.

3] More Cost-Effective than Conventional Learning: Lesser monetary investment is there with better results.

4] A Comfortable Learning Environment: Online learning allows students to work in the environment that best suits them.

Issues  associated with digital education:

  • Lack of a Healthy Learning Environment: Education is not just about classes but interactions, broadening of ideas, and free-flowing open discussions.
  • Lack of Technology Access: Not everyone who can afford to go to school can afford to have phones, computers, or even a quality internet connection for attending classes online.
  • In Contradictory to the Right to Education: Technology is not affordable to all, and shifting towards online education entirely is like removing the Right to Education of those who cannot access the technology.
  • Health – Eye issues: Younger students, especially in classes 1 to 3 were most likely to suffer from eye-health issues due to staring at the computer or mobile screen for extended periods. Other health issues like neck and back pain etc.
  • The availability of internet connection to all is one of the biggest requirements for digital education.
  • Training teachers is another challenge. Only when the teachers are technically sound, they can conduct digital classes.
  • Most of the content available online is in English.
  • Not inclusive: Issues of rural students, and tribal children are not the same. Not everyone can be onboarded to digital learning.

Way Forward

Given the challenges, digital education ought to be carefully thought of and implemented in a phased manner to give desired outcomes.

  1. Digital Divide:
  2. Swayam Prabha channels, which are part of the eVidya program, could be the solution for reaching students who do not have the necessary devices to receive online education. However, their content needs a major overhaul. For one, the number of dedicated channels should be increased. Also, more and more content should be in local languages so that students are able to understand better.
  3. Rural students may be provided connected digital devices in groups, at Panchayat, Anganwadi or women’s SHGs levels. Many corporates would be willing to donate such devices under their CSR scheme if a proper system is in place.
  4. Capacity building, a necessity: 
  5. The mere availability of equipment, gadgets and broadband connectivity will not bring the desired results. The most important aspect is to provide adequate training to professors and students on the use of online education and to familiarise them with the apps and nuances of the available material. Strong Internet connectivity, either through cables or Wi-Fi, is fundamental.
  6. In future, colleges should embark on a system wherein one-third of the syllabus content will be handled online. This approach should be made mandatory so that there will be a smooth transition from offline to online teaching models. Teachers, now, do not have sufficient exposure and training to handle online classes, and the approach to this endeavour should be serious as its impact will have far-reaching consequences.
  7. A pilot study is a prerequisite: At least in most autonomous colleges across the country, experts should conduct regular pilot studies to assess the efficiency of digital learning so that there are no major hiccups during implementation. Based on such studies, teachers and students can tweak online procedures appropriately. Feedback can also be obtained from those concerned to refine the platform.
  8. Stakeholders Engagement: Institution-industry connections could be established with well-known agencies, who have commercialised online education templates, besides seeking support from government organisations who have specialised in these areas.
  9. Employability: The key priorities for higher education institutions should be to make the students industry-ready by assessing their competencies and aligning them to what is needed by the industry. This can be achieved by bringing research and innovation into the core of education and making it affordable for everyone across the nation.
  10. Developing quality e-content in local languages, to address the diversity of Indian languages.
  11. Framing of Online/Digital Education Guidelines Addressing the digital divide.
  12. Make E-Learning inclusive for socio-economically backward section
  13. Equip teachers with the technical know-how of online education.
  14. Developing digital classrooms by integrating education systems and technology

EdTech sector in India
Status of EdTech in India: The Indian EdTech industry was valued at US$ 750 million in 2020 and is expected to reach US$ 4 billion by 2025. This growth is due to growing internet penetration in India. As per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020, smartphone ownership among government school student families increased from 30% in 2018 to 56% in 2020, whereas smartphone ownership among private school student families rose from 50% to 74%. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in India’s education sector.  

Self-regulation: The EdTech companies have formed a collective — India EdTech Consortium — under the aegis of the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI). This consortium has adopted a code of conduct for their businesses. However, the Government has already hinted at formulating a policy to regulate the EdTech sector.

Need for Regulation:
Monopoly: Being heavily venture capital funded, EdTech platforms can offer their services at low or no charges (predatory pricing) and head towards forming monopolies.

The exploitation of students: There are reports that some education technology companies are exploiting students with loans for fee-based courses.

Data safety concerns: The EdTech companies aggregate data to get a 360° view not only of the child’s academic context but also of the psychosocial–economic behaviour of households to make personalised products for the customers. But the safety of this immense data is a huge concern.

Ex: In May 2020, the firewalls of one of the biggest EdTech companies in India were breached by cyber threat groups that put up personally identifiable information of the users for sale on the dark web.

Algorithmic bias: As most of these platforms run on AI-based tools, there are chances of Algorithmic biases which will have long-term consequences for a child’s academic career.
Ex: Recently, students in the United Kingdom (UK) were graded by an algorithm. This caused an uproar when students from disadvantaged backgrounds received lower scores than White students, reflecting the implicit bias in the process.

In the Indian context, reliance on AI tools can create a situation where students from traditionally marginalised castes are driven towards vocational training, as the data will suggest that they are better off here, while their upper caste/class peers are directed towards professional courses.

Lack of emphasis on social skills: EdTech platforms can’t replace the traditional school system. Beyond classroom instruction, the school environment serves a variety of developmental functions in the life of a young individual like important life skills, such as the ability to collaborate, play, deliberate, and disagree with their peers.

Measures to be taken:
Data about students and teachers and their learning transactions must belong to the school and the parent community, although these may be hosted by data platforms. As per the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, the data fiduciary (EdTech company) shall, before processing any personal data of a student, verify their age and obtain the consent of their parent or guardian.

Regular auditing of Artificial intelligence tools that are used by these platforms to avoid any bias.

Platform businesses must have no say in the curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

Setting up a separate institution to investigate the grievances of victims.

Expansion of free educational services via existing platforms like Swayam MOOC.

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