Earlier today, I was asked by a TV channel to comment on the most recent (2015 H1) computer literacy and related indicators issued by the Department of Census and Statistics. I summarize below my comments.
The survey, based on a sample of 12,500 households with persons aged 5-69 years, reported that computer literacy for the country was 26.8 percent.
Under the previous administration, computer literacy was a fraught indicator. The President claimed it was 25 percent as long ago as 2008. The ICT Agency gave different and lower numbers a few months later. Informally, we had been told to keep away from this indicator which was “messed up.”
So we were pleased to see the new report. But sadly, it does not give the certainty we desire.
First, even if we take the lower number of 19.5 percent as being correct for 2008, the current number of 26.8 percent is surprisingly low. It’s rather surprising that literacy has only increased by 7 percent over 6-7 years.
Second, the same survey reports that 24.6 percent of households possessed a computer (desktop or laptop). This meshes with the 18.5 percent number given by the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (25,000 sample, not limited households with a person 5-69 years old) conducted in 2012-13.
One could safely assume that there would be at least one computer literate person in a household with a computer. Usually penetration among individuals would be a multiple of household penetration. Given average household size is 3.9, this would not be a large multiple, but lower than 2 would require a lot of handwaving. But that is exactly what we have: individual computer literacy is only two percentage points higher than household penetration of computers. So two possibilities exist: the computer literacy number for 2015 is understated or the computers in households number is overstated. Given the computers in households number meshes with the 2012-13 HIES figure, I would tend to go with the former explanation.
Then one asks what the definition of computer literacy is. According to the report: “A person (aged 5-69) is considered as a computer literate person if he/she could use the computer on his/her own.” We’ve had some exchanges with the DCS on this topic in the past, but for the present it suffices to say that perhaps the wording will not capture the many who access the Internet through tablets and smartphones (which are more powerful that desktop computers were in the 1980s). This does not explain the unusually small difference between individual computer literacy and household ownership of computers.
More work will have to be done by DCS to make this a reliable and useful indicator. It is the responsibility of all concerned to give constructive criticism so the Department can make the necessary changes.
So for now, I will say that at a minimum, Sri Lanka’s computer literacy is 27 percent.