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Internet access and youth


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 8 February 2018 00:00


Technology is an essential part of modern life and young people especially live lives infused with it. However, technology is also a tool that should be defined by equal access and safety to become a constructive element in the world. Sri Lanka is seeing some dangerous trends emerge on both these fronts that need greater attention from stakeholders.

A report released by UNICEF this week, titled ‘Keeping Children Safe and Empowered Online: A Study on Sri Lanka’s Digital Landscape’, showed that  while 52.8% of young people in Sri Lanka access the internet – with the average age of first access being 13 years – there is a significant disparity along lines of gender, geographic location, and economic wellbeing.

Among the 11-18 year age group, 67.6% of the boys polled were online, while only 33.1% of girls had access to the internet. Regional variances, as highlighted in the report, show that 67.8% of respondents from urban areas were online users, compared to 47.1% from rural locations and just 39.3% from plantation areas. The gender disparity could have strong repercussions in the future where employment and other opportunities will be defined by online access.

The second worrying trend is that a majority of children are getting online without adult supervision. According to the study, 53.6% of child internet users were ‘self-taught’ about the internet, compared to the 16.5% who had been taught by their parents.

With an estimated 6.7 million internet users in Sri Lanka in 2018 representing 32% of the total population, a rise from 4 million in 2015, internet usage is growing across all age groups.  Yet whilst 28.3% of people in Sri Lanka are ‘computer literate’, this differs substantially by age, rising to 60.7% of 15 to 19-year-olds compared to just 19.9% of 40 to 49-year-olds. This represents a rise in overall computer literacy across all age groups since the report data was collected in 2015, the report said.

It is essential to ensure equitable access to the internet and digital technologies for all young people – especially girls, the poor, and those in rural areas – because equity of access ensures that all children can benefit from the opportunities these technologies unlock. Sri Lanka cannot allow a ‘digital divide’ to establish, grow, and limit the life and employment prospects of a huge proportion of young people.

The report data also indicated that 46.3% of some 5,000 children polled had communicated with strangers online. Over 15% had shared their private information with strangers, while 28% had met them in person – 18.3% of whom had done so without informing family or friends.

Clearly, focus on online safety is a must by increasing the knowledge of both young people and vitally their parents, teachers, and caregivers, so that they have the tools to handle the new risks these technologies can bring, including the misuse of private information, cyber-bullying, and exposure to harmful content. The comparatively low computer literacy rate of adults is worrying in this context because not only does it limit safety but also pushes parents to ban universal access, especially for girls, as it could be deemed unsafe or giving access to behaviour deemed socially inappropriate.

Technology is an indivisible aspect of life and like many other aspects of modern existence it is best to be able to control it rather than having it control us.


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