Study bares digital divide

( June 13, 2020 )

About 56 per cent of Indian children lack access to smart phones, key to online schooling which has become the norm during the coronavirus-induced lockdown, a survey has found.

The study, titled “Scenario Amidst Covid-19: On-ground Situations and Possible Solutions”, was conducted by the child rights NGO Smile Foundation. It surveyed over 40,000 schoolchildren in 23 states.

According to the study, 43.99 per cent of the children surveyed had access to smart phones and another 43.99 per cent had access only to basic phones. Nearly one in eight —or 12.02 per cent — lacked access to either smart phones or basic phones.

“Concerning television, it was noted that while 68.99 per cent have access to TV, a major chunk of 31.01 per cent do not. Hence suggesting that using smart phone interventions for enhancing learning outcomes is not the only solution,” the study report says.

The study, conducted between April 16 and 28, surveyed children from Class I to Class XII.

It adopted two approaches: talking over the phone with children enrolled in the NGO’s education centres, and sending community workers door to door.

Among the 23 states covered were Bengal, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

The lockdown, which began on March 25, has closed schools, colleges and universities, prompting them to switch to online education, an arrangement expected to continue in the near future.

Many experts, however, say the virtual classes are deepening the educational divide in the country because it is difficult for rural and poor children to access them.

According to official statistics, India has over 35 crore school and university students. It remains unclear what proportion of them have access to digital devices and the Internet.

Santanu Mishra, co-founder and executive trustee, Smile Foundation, said the findings underline the challenge posed by the digital divide.

He said multiple approaches to education need to be implemented to cater to all sections of society.

“Before we start any programme, we do a baseline study to understand the on-ground challenges so that our programmes can bring in real work and real change,” he said.

“With the onset of the pandemic, following indefinite school closures, it is more important than ever to understand the situation and how we can ensure that children are given quality education. Through this, we understand that customised modules need to be built in accordance with the channel of communication, he said.”