The COVID-19 pandemic was the first global pandemic in the digital age. Measures to combat the pandemic, including lockdowns and the need for social distancing, forced many of our everyday spheres of activity online, including work, education, buying essentials such as food and medicine, and our social lives. Furthermore, digital tools became a widespread part of pandemic response itself, including using the online world for risk communication, as well as digital / online applications for contact tracing, quarantine monitoring, and more recently, vaccine distribution.

These changes brought tremendous opportunities, allowing many activities that would otherwise have been interrupted, to continue. Digital technologies also opened up the possibility of making pandemic control faster and more efficient through harnessing numerous and varied sources of data. However, inequalities in access to digital technologies and broadband meant that some have been affected worse than others, along lines such as gender and socioeconomic status. In addition, there are many forms of work and other activities that simply cannot be undertaken online. Moreover, the use of digital technologies in pandemic control measures such as contact tracing and quarantine enforcement, have raised questions about cybersecurity and the protection of users’ personally identifiable information.

LIRNEasia’s work on the impact of COVID-19 on our society addresses all these aspects, drawing on our existing work under the themes of Disaster response, AfterAccess, Education, the Future of Work, Small and Medium Enterprises, Gender, and the Data, Algorithms, and Policy workstream.

During pandemic related shutdowns in 2020, we revisited our findings from the AfterAccess surveys of ICT use to explore challenges faced by digitally unconnected individuals in accessing education.  Often, data helped frame policy debates on remote education.

Given the importance of digital payments and digital presence during lockdown, we also explored existing data and participated in policy dialog related to how Small and Medium Businesses could survive and thrive in the “new normal”.

We also  explored several risk communication activities undertaken in Asia, and how risk communication may be used to build trust in populations, thereby motivating them to follow precautionary measures.   These findings were presented at international policy events as well as Sri Lankan academic events related to COVID-19.   More broadly, we continued our thinking and writing on communicating, use of evidence and decision making under uncertainty.

We looked at the promise and challenges of technology and data as tools to deal with the pandemic – for example, exploring the potential for wearable contact tracing technology.  Towards this, we explored how health information and other related data are gathered and used as part of COVID-19 responses in Sri Lanka and Thailand, especially in terms of contact tracing and quarantine monitoring. We asked what kinds of information and data are collected, how they are gathered, and how they are used in the COVID-19 response, to identify lessons learned for future pandemics.

Understanding how people were impacted day-to-day were impacted by the enforcement of pandemic-related lockdowns is important because we know different people were impacted differently.  Understanding how people coped is also important to designing solutions that rebuild better.  However, we grappled with the challenges of not being able to visit, travel or interview face to face various respondents.  During the second wave of the pandemic, when curfew was implemented in specific areas of Sri Lanka, we used an innovative e-Diary method to study a select group of respondents through intense by remote research.

We continued the efforts to understand the user or demand-side on a much larger scale through two surveys in India and Sri Lanka. The surveys aimed to explore people’s behaviour related to work, accessing food, accessing non-pandemic health care and accessing education prior to, during and post-pandemic.  Results are expected May 2021.  Both were designed to be nationally representative of the population over the age of 15 in each country, but since they were completed during and in between pandemic surges over 2021, the Indian sample excluded the state of Kerala, as it was not safe to conduct research there at the time.   The project was part of a larger project that covers Asia, Africa and Latin America and is done with our long term research partners in those regions.


  • #HomeBasedFlexiworkInCovid19 : Joint LIRNEasia, CPR and JustJobs Network panel at 2022 Internet Research Conference

    Senior research managers Gayani Hurulle and Ayesha Zainudeen recently shared insights on the experience of women in India and Sri Lanka working remotely and flexibly during the pandemic at a jointly organised by LIRNEasia, the Centre for Policy Research (New Delhi) and the JustJobs Network at the 2022 Internet Research Conference (organised by the Centre for Internet and Society, CIS).  LIRNEasia has been working with CPR and JJN over the last two and a half years on research on if and how digital platforms are empowering women with regards to work opportunities in India and Sri Lanka. The panel was moderated by Sabina Dewan (President and Executive Director, JJN) with panellists bringing in different perspectives and data. Devesh Taneja (Co-Founder, Vyre) started the discussion off with an overview of the platform ecosystem, business models and incentives.  Gayani presented data on the gendered incidence and perceptions of remote work during COVID from our nationally representative surveys of the impacts of COVID in the two countries. Both Mukta Naik (Fellow, CPR) and Ayesha then brought in insights from our joint research Ecosystems of Engagement: Digital Platform and Women’s Work in Sri Lanka and India,  with Mukta speaking about empowerment impacts and Ayesha […]

  • Digital for Education in Sri Lanka (Presentation)

    Slides presented at the Education Forum Policy Dialogue (#20) on Education Post-Pandemic on Saturday, 26 March 2022

  • Access to education during the first lockdown was high, but not without problems, survey shows (Press Release)

    A new survey shows that 85% of enrolled school-aged children had some form of education services during school closures between March and July 2020. While some received educational services through multiple means, 54% of students received information, instructions, notes, or assignments sent to smartphone, tab, or computer, 50% had live lessons delivered over Zoom and other applications (potentially alongside other methods).

  • Internet use in Sri Lanka has grown due to pandemic, but slower than peers, survey shows (Press Release)

    A recent national survey conducted by LIRNEasia, a regional policy think tank, showed that 44% of Sri Lanka’s population aged 15 and above were internet users in 2021. Internet use was lower amongst the rural, elderly, less educated and poorer groups.

  • Impact of COVID-19 on households and the workforce in Sri Lanka: Survey methodology note

    The COVID-19 related lockdowns, mandating citizens to ‘stay at home’ brought about a host of challenges, from restricted mobility to large scale job and income loss to disruptions in the provisions of essential services as well as education. To an extent, especially in urban areas, digital technology-driven solutions have been able to bridge the last mile of service delivery and help minimize the disruptions, for example through app-driven delivery services, online schooling, etc.

  • Digital Sri Lanka during COVID-19 Lockdowns (Research Report)

    LIRNEasia will present the findings of a nationally representative survey with a 2,500 sample across Sri Lanka. We explore the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 by analyzing access to education, work, food and government services with a focus on digital technologies.

  • Maharashtra performs higher than all-India average on continuity in education during COVID-19 school closures: survey (Press Release)

    A recent survey by policy think tanks LIRNEasia and ICRIER has shown that Maharashtra was able to ensure continuity in formal education for 38% of its school-going (enrolled) children during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The state compares well against the India national average, as well as that of NCT Delhi, whose performance stood at 20% and 25% respectively. It is also noteworthy that only 6% of households had at least one child dropping out of education, as opposed to the national average of 25%.

  • 59% of school children in Tamil Nadu had no formal education during COVID-19 school closures: New study warns of further marginalisation (Press Release)

    A recent survey of households in Tamil Nadu has shown that large numbers of school-aged children did not have continuity in their formal education during the COVID-19 school closures. A small number (10%) even dropped out.

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