27.9% rural households bought smartphone for kids’ studies amid pandemic: Survey

Updated on Nov 18, 2021 01:34 AM IST

According to ASER survey, the availability of smartphones in rural India was 36.5% in 2018, which increased to 61.8% in 2020 and 67.6 % in 2021.

ASER survey cautioned that smartphone availability didn’t necessarily translate into access to education. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
ASER survey cautioned that smartphone availability didn’t necessarily translate into access to education. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Smartphone penetration doubled in rural households in the past three years but a quarter of the children with digital devices at home don't have access to them, said the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) survey released on Wednesday.

According to the survey, the availability of smartphones in rural India was 36.5% in 2018, which increased to 61.8% in 2020 and 67.6 % in 2021. And, at least 27.9 % households in rural India bought a new smartphone for their children’s education this year. This figure was 9.1% last year.

But the report cautioned that smartphone availability didn’t necessarily translate into access to education. “Although over two-thirds of all enrolled children have a smartphone at home (67.6%), over a quarter of them have no access to it (26.1%). There is also a clear pattern by grade, with more children in higher classes having access to a smartphone as compared to children in lower grades,” the report said.

Also read | Covid-19 impact: Financial stress pushed kids out of pvt schools

Access to smartphone became important for education after the Covid-19 pandemic hit India last year and forced schooling to shift online. For almost a year, teachers took classes virtually and distributed reading materials over smartphones. Schools have only started opening up across the country in recent months.

Of the 67.6% of the surveyed children with a smartphone at home, 27% said they had complete access to the device, 47% said they got access occasionally and 26.1% said they had no access to the device.

The survey covered 76,706 households, 75,234 children between 5 and 16, and teachers and staff from 7,300 government schools across 25 states and three Union Territories.

The survey found an increase in access to smartphones among students irrespective of the type of school they were enrolled in. For instance, in 2018, 29.6% of children enrolled in government schools had at least one smartphone at home. This proportion increased to 56.4% in 2020 and grew further to 63.7% in 2021.“However, still more children in private schools have a smartphone at home (79%) as opposed to kids going to government schools (63.7%),” the report stated.

Kerala recorded the highest number of enrolled students with smartphone availability at home, at 97.5%. It was followed by 95.6% in Himachal Pradesh, 92.9% in Manipur and Nagaland, both, and 89.9% in Punjab.

In contrast, some states showed poor availability of smartphones. For instance, in Bihar 54.4% of the surveyed students had smartphones at home, in West Bengal the figure was 58.4% and in Uttar Pradesh it was 58.9%.

Bihar (53.8 per cent) has the highest percentage of students who did not have access to a smartphone despite a device being available at home followed by West Bengal (46.5% ), Uttar Pradesh (34.3 %) and Rajasthan (33.4%).

The report further stated that the likelihood of a household owning a smartphone rose with the parents’ educational level. “In 2021, over 80% of children with parents who had studied at least till Class 9 had a smartphone available at home, as compared to just over 50% of children whose parents had studied till Class 5 or less,” it stated.

However, it also highlighted that many parents in the ‘low’ education category bought new smartphones for their children amid the pandemic.

Rukmini Banerjee, chief executive officer Pratham foundation, said, “Families did everything to ensure that learning continues during the lockdown. Now, time to think about how we can continue to engage families not just in schooling but in learning as well. Based on the ASER 2021 report, I would like to make a big case for digital device libraries in schools, villages and communities where these devices can be shared by groups of children or adults in the future.”

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Fareeha Iftikhar is a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. She tracks the education ministry, and covers the beat at the national level for the newspaper. She also writes on issues related to gender, human rights and different policy matters.

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