Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the government and private sectors will work in tandem to bridge the digital divide that has disadvantaged schoolchildren from needy families in online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Answering Opposition queries during the Question Hour in the Assembly on Tuesday, Mr. Vijayan said a significant number of school students could not afford computer, television or smartphone. Many risked educational backwardness. The government would accord priority to address the issue, he said.
Many other students, especially tribal children, lived in remote localities with no access to the Internet or mobile phone network coverage. Some families could not afford the Internet rate charged by service providers. “The government would not leave them behind,” he said.
Mr. Vijayan said Kerala could not rule out a third or even a fourth COVID-19 wave. Remote learning was here to stay for the foreseeable future. Hence, the State would equip school students and build the necessary digital infrastructure rapidly with an eye on the future.
The government was in discussion with service providers to extend the State’s mobile and Internet coverage network. The Kerala State Electric Board’s (KSEB)electric grid, which covers the entire State, would provide backbone support where necessary, he said. Cable television operators and corporates had agreed to support the government’s push to prevent educational backwardness among children from low-income families.
The government would work in tandem with the private sector to equip children with affordable laptops. Local bodies would spearhead the push to bridge the digital divide.
Congress legislator Mathew Kuzhalnadan said the government should give a tax incentive to mobile phone operators willing to set up towers in remote localities. Congress’s P.C. Vishnunath said the government should extend an online education support scheme to girl students in honour of the memory of veteran Communist leader K.R. Gowri. He said legislators were beset with calls from anxious parents fearful that their children would miss online classes. “They are asking for laptops and smartphones,” he said.
To another question, Finance Minister K.N. Balagopal said the government had not considered lowering the cess on fuel to ease the burden on the commoner.
He also said minimum spending was necessary for the upkeep of century-old houses occupied by several Ministers.