The Covid-19 pandemic completely changed the world. The obvious mayhem was observed by everyone but the subtle changes it brought to our lives are often missed. These changes came in the form of technology adoption. While hampering the functioning of many industries and education systems alike, the pandemic somehow single-handedly facilitated an increased digital adoption across different economic strata of India.
Many small and medium businesses were forced to shut down physical stores and integrate their products into an online marketplace. Teachers were made to grapple with conducting online classes while young students began using smartphones and the Internet for the first time. Many daily wage workers also took to app-based delivery services to make a living.
What was most interesting about these two years was that the inadvertent result of this “Covid shock therapy”. A huge section of Bharat or a majority of the population of India from the low and middle income strata — who had not yet been inducted into the folds of smartphones, online payments, and modern technology — began to see and use these systems as a way to access education and even accrue income. Technology ended up becoming their friend during these adverse crisis-ridden times.
Now, we stand at the cusp of another boom — the era of the Web 3.0, based on which is the Metaverse and its building blocks, augmented reality, and virtual reality. As newer generations and economic classes of the Indian population enter this constantly transforming digital world, it becomes important to ask ourselves the question—how can we address the issues of privacy and digital wellbeing in this new realm before it’s too late?
While the rising digital adoption in education is certainly commendable, one must look at the surrounding culture and modus operandi of this adoption to understand it a little better.
While the first time users of technology could easily pick up what it meant to consume and be passive participants in this digital world (i.e. how to attend online classes and consume information), they were unable to create a two-way channel of participation. They had no idea what it meant to be an active and responsible participant in the digital world. Simple things like online meeting and social media etiquette to larger things like protecting your online information, cyberbullying, body shaming, fake news, and a basic understanding of cyber-laws eluded them.
In the absence of this two-way participation within the digital world, the setting was ripe for vulnerable communities to be taken advantage of. The National Crime Records Bureau of India stated that there was a 36 percent increase in cyberstalking and cyberbullying cases in India post the pandemic. Among the top three cities to receive complaints around these crimes were New Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai with school and college students forming 60 percent of these complainants.
In some instances, it has been observed that teachers were the victims of cyberbullying and cyberstalking as well. It is high time and the need of the hour to think about how we can start fostering a sense of Digital Citizenship in our teachers and students that can teach them how to behave and create within the digital realm with a sense of responsibility and safety.
The question then becomes—how can we think about creating this two-way channel of participation and enable teachers to teach students how to act, behave, and create with responsibility in the digital realm? Netiquettes are important to operate and protect personal information in Web 3.0. How can we integrate this into our education system?
Instead of discouraging our students from using technology, we need to create a digital citizenship curriculum for both senior and junior grade students. Teaching students digital code of conduct and teaching them how to use technology, understanding device settings, and how to leverage its full potential while respecting the privacy and rights of others is the way we can prevent future issues from developing at the root itself.
Web 3.0-based immersive technologies and Metaverse with all its potential can make a huge impact to democratise high-quality education in India. We need to empower our teachers to be able to deliver on this promise, and we must not forget that they are the most important catalyst in this chain reaction. This is why we should simultaneously develop a national curriculum on cyber safety, cyberbullying, body shaming, and data privacy that acquaints all teachers (and not just the Computer Science teachers) with technology so that they can realise how it can be applied to teach different concepts across multiple subjects.
Also read- Metaverse: The next big thing in education
By integrating such curriculum into our mainstream government education setup, we might be able to use technology to bridge the increasing gap between classes in rural and urban India. The young minds who will inherit the Metaverse with its infinite possibilities are entering our classrooms right now. So let’s start early and get them ready, before it's too late.
The writer is a cofounder of 1M1B (One Million for One Billion).
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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