100% rise in rural children with access to smartphones, says survey

Schools have not yet reopened and governments and schools are reaching out to children through a variety of remote means
Despite disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, rural school education saw improvements across parameters, and access to learning material increased for both government and private school going children.

This was aided by doubling of share of school-going kids in rural households with smartphones from 36 per cent in 2018 to 62 per cent by 2020, according to the latest Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) (ASER) 2020 Wave 1 survey. The survey found that around 11 per cent of families bought a new phone after the lockdown, of which 80 per cent were smartphones.

While the Covid-19 crisis interrupted its alternate-year calendar, making it impossible to conduct the nationwide ‘basic’ ASER survey in 2020, non-government organisation (NGO) Pratham conducted the ASER 2020 Wave 1 survey via phone calls to capture the impact on children’s education.

Schools have not yet reopened and governments and schools are reaching out to children through a variety of remote means and the survey was designed to capture this. It explores the provision of, and access to, remote education mechanisms and material in rural areas, and the ways in which children, families, and educators are engaging with these.

Pratham CEO Rukmini Banerji told Business Standard that apart from those with access to smartphones and other assets reporting more access to education in rural India, engagement of families and rural communities also rose after the lockdown.

“Not only did the entire machinery of rural school system do well in getting textbooks to students, the survey data shows support and engagement at home at every level even among less educated families improving. With the National Education Policy (NEP) looking to engage community and family in education, the survey shows that a good ground already exists for this and can be explored further once schools reopen,” said Banerji. About 60 per cent of all children in both types of schools reported using textbooks during the reference week.

Different remote learning mechanisms have been tried out. “We should now take a look at what has worked during this fertile period of experimentation and take it further,” she added. The increase in smartphone ownership was similar in households of children enrolled in government and private schools. One in every 10 households bought a new phone to support their children’s education after schools closed in March.

Also, the more educated the parents, the more help their children received. Among families where both parents have completed class IX or more, about 45 per cent of children received help from their mothers, with trends being similar for government and private school children.

Regardless of school type, WhatsApp was by far the most common medium for sharing learning material, followed by phone calls and visits. While 67.3 per cent government school children received material via WhatsApp, 87.2 per cent private school children did so.

Overall, 20 per cent of rural children were reported to have had no textbooks, with share of those from West Bengal, Nagaland, and Assam standing at a whopping 98 per cent.

Further, the disruptions resulted in over five per cent of rural children in the 6-10 years age group being unable to enroll in schools, compared to 1.8 per cent in 2018. On the other hand, enrolments rose for 15-16-year-olds. Moreover, with private schools witnessing a drop in enrolment across all age groups, government schools saw the trend shift in their favour.

However, according to ASER, since schools are closed, many young children have not yet secured admissions to class I. The increase in children in the 6-10 years age group not enrolled is, therefore, likely more a reflection of children waiting to enroll in school rather than of dropping out. Among students who did not have access to leaarning material, the top reason was their school not sending them. While 68.5 per cent government schools did not send any material to those who did not have access, 66.9 per cent of private schools did not do so. Even though only a third of all children received material from their schools during the reference week, households reported that most children did do some learning activity during that week.

While the proportion of children doing different types of activities was similar for government and private schools, 28.7 per cent of private school children reported using recorded video lessons, as opposed to 18.3 per cent for government schools. Further, 17.7 per cent children in private schools accessed live online classes as compared to 8.1 per cent of government school children.

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