The reality of online learning / e-learning in the Asian Global South is far from ideal, even in Sri Lanka, which is classed as an upper middle-income country by the World Bank and, as the AfterAccess data has shown, has high level of mobile phone ownership. AfterAccess also shows us that internet use was still less than half the population by the start of 2019, and most of the internet use was through smartphones.
In Sri Lanka, where schools have been shut down from mid-March, ways of ensuring continuity of education for all are being examined. In this context, two key pieces of data from the AfterAccess nationally representative surveys become important:
1. 34% of Sri Lankan households that contain children (18 or below) had some type of internet connection by the start of 2019 (this includes connections via mobile phones, dongles, fiber connections, etc.).
2. 48% of households with children had either a smartphone or (working) computer.
This means that only 34% meet the criteria of having a connected device, and are therefore able to avail of any type of online learning: ranging from the rudimentary tutes sent over WhatsApp to synchronous classroom experiences on platforms like Google Classroom. This (34%) is on average. Poorer, rural households are systematically worse off, in fact the number drops to 21% in the lowest socioeconomic group households.
But having a connected device necessary but not sufficient; data affordability remains a barrier for many (again, particularly the poor). This is despite the fact that Sri Lanka has often shown up among the top five countries in data affordability indicators. Similarly, students, teachers and parents alike need to be sufficiently digitally literate to navigate the online experience independently; where children are concerned this means not just being able to find information, setup and log into teaching platforms, but also to navigate their internet experience in a safe and secure way.
Educators and policymakers need to keep these figures and facts in the forefront when thinking of how to ensure continuity of education during school shutdown periods.
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