The Delhi High Court on Friday directed private and government schools in the Capital to provide internet packs and gadgets to students belonging to economically weaker sections for online classes, Bar and Bench reported. The court noted that unequal access to internet services creates a “digital apartheid” in the classroom.

The order was passed by a bench comprising Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula, on a petition filed by non-governmental organisation Justice for All. The petitioner told the court that students from poor backgrounds were unable to attend online classes due to the lack of technology.

The petitioner added that not providing adequate facilities to disadvantaged students was a violation of the provisions of the Right to Education Act and Articles 21 [right to life] and 21A [right to free and compulsory education] of the Constitution of India.

The court noted that unequal technological privileges create a digital gap between the students. “Intra-class discrimination, especially inter-se 75% fee paying students viz-a-viz 25% EWS/DG [economically weaker sections/ disadvantaged groups] students upsets the ‘level playing field’ and amounts to discrimination as well as creates a vertical division, digital divide or digital gap or ‘digital apartheid’ in addition to segregation in a classroom, which is violative of RTE Act, 2009 and Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the Constitution,” the judges said.

They added that the schools must provide gadgets to the students free of cost but can ask the government for reimbursement under the RTE Act. The Delhi government, on the other hand, told the court that it had taken adequate measures to keep providing education to school children amid the coronavirus crisis.

Also read: Indian public schools failed to provide education during lockdown, say 80% parents in a new survey

The court ordered the government to form a three-member committee to oversee the process of providing the facilities to the students. The expert committee will consist of the Centre’s education secretary or their nominee, the Delhi government’s education secretary and a representative of private schools.

The judges said that the panel would also be responsible for ensuring uniformity in the technology which the students will use.

Earlier on Friday, the Delhi government had said that schools in the Capital will remain closed till October 5 but online learning would proceed as usual.

Schools and higher educational institutions in India have been closed since March. Earlier this month, the government had given schools the option of reopening for classes 9 to 12 from September 23.

Educational institutions have mostly been relying on online learning, but lack of access to the facilities have made it difficult for students across the country to continue their studies.

A new five-state survey conducted by the non-profit Oxfam India has shown that more than 80% of parents of children studying in government schools said that education was “not delivered” during the lockdown. It showed that the children had missed out on classes because their families did not have access to digital services.

The survey, conducted across Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh between May and June, was published on September 4.