Most students know of social media, but lag in computer skills; study reveals major gap between privileged, disadvantaged groups


Students from schools catering to the lowest socio-economic segments such as SCs, STs, OBCs and Muslims lag far behind students from schools catering to the middle class in Information and Communical Technology (ICT) awareness and skills, revealed a study.

The study, titled Catching up: Children in the Margins of Digital India and conducted by Centre for Communication and Development Studies (CCDS) showed that the unequal digital access, training and competency of the students can hold them back further as they struggled to catch up in education, livelihoods and social and democratic participation.

 Most students know of social media, but lag in computer skills; study reveals major gap between privileged, disadvantaged groups

Representational image. Wikimedia Commons

The study surveyed 1,300 students at the upper-primary and secondary levels (Class 7 and Class 10) from 34 schools across the Pune Urban Agglomeration, one of the fastest-growing urban areas in India, an IT hub and one of India’s “Smart Cities”. The students were drawn from 13 government/local body-run schools, 14 private-aided schools, and seven private-unaided schools. Since the focus was on disadvantaged children, 88 percent of the student sample came from 30 schools catering to high proportions of children from the economically and socially weaker sections.

The study also provided some curious markers on how technology might be used by children, the reach of ICT devices and whether or not ICT education is able to add valuable skills in order to survive in a digital world.

According to the study, while 91 percent could identify the icon for Facebook and 81 percent the YouTube icon, only 62 percent could identify the symbol for attachment and 72 percent for search. This, the study, says corresponds to the data on access to ICTs and patterns of use — although 88 percent of all children had access to smartphones, only 35 percent had access to computers. Not surprisingly then, 58 percent of the children use ICTs every day for entertainment and social networking, but use them only occasionally for school work, finding new information or learning new skills.

In the current environment, where fake news and disinformation proliferate easily, a worrying find was that 42 percent of students believe that all information on the internet is accurate, the study said.

The awareness about basic computer protection rules were also poor, with 66 percent not aware that shared pen drives should be scanned for viruses.

What’s worse is the awareness among children about privacy and the dangers of being on social media networks. Thirty-six percent of children would share their address and phone number with a stranger online, 62 percent would accept a friend request from a stranger on a social network and 49 percent would share personal photographs with a stranger.

Students also lacked knowledge of computer programmes such as word processors (74 percent Class 7 students didn’t know that a word processor is used to edit and format an essay) or computer operations such how to use “bold” and “underline” formatting tools. Sixty-eight percent (both Class 7 and Class 10) students didn’t know that Excel sheets could help in calculations while 59 percent didn’t know how to create a new slide in presentation.

Among Class 10 students, a lot of students lacked awareness of basic skills like changing email passwords (only 45 percent knew), shortcut to go to end or start of a line (88 percent didn’t know), upload photo to an online application (21 percent didn’t know) and only 54 percent could identify the official government website for board exam results.

Surprisingly, 35 percent of Class 7 students and 25 percent of Class 10 students didn’t even know how to turn off a computer.

Socio-eonomic status impacts ICT learning

Nearly a fourth of the students from the lowest socio-economic group said they did not know how to operate computers or the internet at all.

One of the most important findings of the study was the gap in computer skills between children from the lowest and highest socio-economic groups. “There is an 18-percentage point difference between the scores of Class 7 children from the lowest socio-economic group and the highest, a gap that widens to 24 percentage points between Class 10 students from the two groups.
Roughly 30 percent of children in Classes 7 and 10 have ICT competency scores of less than 40 percent, and of these low-scorers, 77 percent fall in the lowest two socio-economic groups identified in the study.

The study also pointed out that more students from school catering to marginalised sections were likely to fall for clickbait like winning a lottery as compared to a small proportion (3 percent) of students catering to the middle-class.

The study also found that children from poor families were less ICT-competent as compared to those from relatively well-off families. Socio-economic status influences people’s decisions on which type of school they will send their children to, which not only affects the quality of education, but also access to ICT devices at home.

According to the study, only 22 percent of students from the lowest economic status had a desktop/laptop at home while the penetration of ICT devices was 80.8 percent in the highest socioeconomic group. The gap in family ownership of smartphones is smaller, with a 15.8-percentage point difference between the lowest (81 percent) and the highest (96.8 percent). However, a significant 19 percent of students came from households that did not have the economic capital to buy even an entry-level smartphone.

Infrastructure remains a challenge

The study pointed out that access and the kind of training students have in school influences their ICT competencies. It is in this scenario that the ICT infrastructure in schools, especially those catering to marginalised sections, becomes extremely important. This study, however, found that schools serving disadvantaged children — government and private — are still struggling to find the resources to acquire and manage ICT infrastructure.

One of the key findings of the study was the child-computer ratio. Of 30 schools surveyed, only a third (11 out of 30) had the ideal child-computer ratio of one or two, whereas the remaining 19 had ratios ranging from 3 to 22 children per computer. The second worst child-computer ratio was 1:11.

Though most of the teaching staff in schools had some sort of certificate/diploma in computers, none of the teachers were trained in teaching ICT skills to children. That could explain the lack of awareness about basic skills among students.

Lack of infrastructure is another problem that emerged in the study, with 18 of 30 schools having separate computer labs, while 11 schools had a combined computer lab and e-learning room. However, while all Category 4 schools (four schools) had separate computer labs, only four schools (two each from Category 2 and Category 4) had e-learning infrastructure in their classrooms, allowing for full integration of technology in education.

In the absence of e-learning rooms, schools use the school corridor or library for e-learning sessions, projecting images on to a wall, with children sitting on the floor.

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