COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown found educators in Sri Lanka scrambling to connect with their students, and hence the state of internet connectivity of families with children was a crucial piece of data that policymakers needed. In response, LIRNEasia’s survey research team re-analyzed their 2018 AfterAccess dataset with a focus on households with children under 18. Ayesha Zainudeen and Tharaka Amarasinghe presented their analysis at a policy dialogue by the Education Forum Sri Lanka (EFSL) on “Access to distance education for children Lanka”. EFSL is the advocacy partner in LIRNEasia’s Education for the Future themed research.
As Ayesha and Tharaka note, results for families with children parallel the results for all households, with 48% of households with children owning a smartphone or other device for accessing the Internet, but only 34% could access the internet. Those who access the Internet do so largely through their smartphones. The fact that smartphone ownership is greater than internet access shows that there is room for increasing internet access to these households with smartphones. Additionally, of mobile owners who do not own a smartphone in the population aged 15-65 (i.e., those that own either a basic or feature phone), when asked why they don’t buy a smartphone, 60% said they don’t need it. (Other responses: 23%-Can not afford it; 10%- Too complicated; 2% – Don’t know what a smartphone is; 2% – Not allowed; and3%-Other reasons). Will the distance education imperative imposed by COVID-19 give households the reason they need to buy a phone?
LIRNEasia’s infographic summarizing the findings was picked by a group organizing a Dialogue on the Way Forward in Education carried out as a conversation with a political leader. That dialogue received over 20,000 views and LIRNEasia data served as an important anchor to the discussion. LIRNEasia will continue to share this online education-related information with as many policymakers as possible in the near future.