Day 42 – Q 3. What are your views on distance education? Can it replace brick and mortar classrooms in the future? Is it really a great leveller in terms of access and affordability? Discuss. 

  • IASbaba
  • July 28, 2020
  • 0
GS 2, Social Sector & Development, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. What are your views on distance education? Can it replace brick and mortar classrooms in the future? Is it really a great leveller in terms of access and affordability? Discuss.  

दूरस्थ शिक्षा पर आपके क्या विचार हैं? क्या यह भविष्य में ईंट और मोर्टार कक्षाओं की जगह ले सकता है? क्या यह वास्तव में पहुंच और सामर्थ्य के मामले में एक महान समान  स्तर उपलब्ध करता है? चर्चा करें।

Demand of the question:

It expects students to express their views on distance education. It also expects students to give clear facts whether distance education can replace the brick and mortar classrooms in future or not while focussing on whether it is a great leveller in terms of  access and affordability. 


The COVID-19 has resulted in schools shut all across the world. Globally, over 1.2 billion children are out of the classroom. As a result, education has changed dramatically, with the distinctive rise of e-learning, whereby teaching is undertaken remotely  on digital platforms; it gave rise to debate of accessibility and affordability of distance education in India vs. Bharat.


While countries are at different points in their COVID-19 infection rates, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic. In Denmark, children up to the age of 11 are returning to nurseries and schools after initially closing on 12 March, but in South Korea students are responding to roll calls online.

  • With this sudden shift away from the classroom in many parts of the globe, some are wondering whether the adoption of online learning will continue to persist post-pandemic, and how such a shift would impact the worldwide education market.
  • Even before COVID-19, there was already high growth and adoption in education technology, with global edtech investments reaching US$18.66 billion in 2019 and the overall market for online education projected to reach $350 Billion by 2025.
  • Whether it is language apps, virtual tutoring, video conferencing tools, or online learning software, there has been a significant surge in usage since COVID-19.
  • In response to significant demand, many online learning platforms are offering free access to their services. Since announcing free live classes on its Think and Learn app, BYJU’s has seen a 200% increase in the number of new students using its product. 
  • Other companies are bolstering capabilities to provide a one-stop shop for teachers and students. For example, Lark, a Singapore-based collaboration suite initially developed by ByteDance as an internal tool to meet its own exponential growth, began offering teachers and students unlimited video conferencing time, auto-translation capabilities, real-time co-editing of project work, and smart calendar scheduling, amongst other features.
  • So, it shows that distance education has great potential to replace brick and mortal classrooms in coming future.

The UGC Chairman said that to maintain social distancing, e-education was the only way out. He was also quoted as saying that online education was likely to be adopted as a strategy to enhance the gross enrolment ratio in higher education. But, distance learning has its own limitations:

  • According to a report by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), infrastructure in terms of technology in India has not achieved a state of quality so as to ensure sound delivery of online classes to students across the country. It is seen that both the state and the private players have not yet managed to overcome technical challenges, for instance, in providing adequate power supply and ensuring effective connectivity.
  • Online classes are not feasible for students with research as an essential component. Though the students are able to keep up with the theoretical lessons, practical training held in the laboratories is suffering.
  • Online learning is not for everyone. Schools located in remote areas of the country with limited availability of electricity and internet is making restricted use of WhatsApp to stay connected with their classrooms.
  • Access is not merely enrolment: It also includes effective participation in curricular processes, which includes negotiating through language and social  and economic barriers. 
  • The digital divide in Bharat i.e. Rural India, which makes marginalised people vulnerable to a double disadvantage if digital modes become the mainstay of education. Unless they receive consistent hand-holding and backstopping, they tend to remain on the margins and eventually drop out or fail. e.g. A small scale farmer in Uttar pradesh sold his buffalo to buy a mobile phone for his son to facilitate access to online classes.
  • Also it has some health concerns as continuous screen exposure may affect the eye sight of some students.

Socio-economic benefits in terms of accessibility and affordability:

  • All of the students do not have laptops or tablet computers. Parents also use the computer for their work from home so children do not get a chance to use it.  For instance, a student in Maharashtra attempted suicide as his father was not able to afford a mobile phone to facilitate online education at home.
  • Teachers too might have technical constraints and if teachers are equipped but the same might not be the case for the institutions. So issue of accessibility is still there.
  • In terms of affordability many of the schools and colleges started charging more fees for online education other than the regular fees, which resulted in excessive economic burden on those who either can’t afford it or lost jobs during COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • According to National Sample Survey data for 2017-18, only 42 per cent of urban and 15 per cent of rural households had internet access.
  • Hence, it is a clear picture that though the distance education facilitates education to the last mile, its affordability and accessibility  comes in to question for the poor and marginalised sections of society.

Government initiatives to address these challenges:

  • SWAYAM Prabha: It is an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resources Development to provide 32 High Quality Educational Channels through DTH across the length and breadth of the country on 24X7 basis. This is primarily aimed at making quality learning resources accessible to remote areas where internet availability is still a challenge.


Though an indispensable supplement for traditional education, there are certain aspects of traditional education and a social life that online learning cannot substitute. So, there should not be diversion from the traditional educations systems and distant online education should be a supplement and catalyst to achieve the 100 percent quality education across all the sections of population.


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