THANE: Most weekdays, Raj (12) accesses the to crack mathematics sums or about historical events that are part of his school curriculum. While this internet behaviour may be common among urban children, what sets this scene apart is that Raj lives in a hamlet in Yeoor that skirts Thane. Civic school teachers point out that these hamlets lack even basic facilities such as good roads, piped water and some, till recently, even electricity and yet they have latched on to technology. Today, tribal students are as internet savvy as their counterparts in non-tribal areas.

A Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) survey of 600 children in tribal settlements reveals that every second child here has access to smartphones and internet data, and a sizable number uses popular networking to socialize.

The survey showed that nearly 53% of the students had access to smartphones and as many as 78% used the internet frequently. Almost half these smartphone users had accounts on social sites while 24% of them used the internet to look up information. A minuscule 2% had also tried their hand at online commercial transactions.

What has enthused educationists is a parallel TMC study that shows similar percolation of technology among civic students from non-tribal areas as well: 53% of them used smartphones, 52% social networking sites, 26% used online search engines to access information and 1.9% have tried online transactions. For this survey, too, TMC had roped in around 600 students.

An estimated 40% of around 80 crore mobile phone users in the country, which amounts to two-thirds of the population, currently own smartphones.

‘It is heartening to note that the penetration of technology and information is crossing all barriers and reaching out to this strata of the society that was once considered disadvantaged,” said P G Jogdand, a retired professor of sociology, Mumbai University.

A trip down the few tribal-dominated areas around the city and you can spot children using the internet. So, while Class VIII student Madhura Nage is busy uploading her pictures on Instagram, her contemporary, Sandesh Bhalerao, spends time on YouTube listening to new rhymes and reading up on historical events.

“We surveyed around 600 randomly selected students from located in tribal settlements. Our intention behind the survey was to measure the willingness and access of the tribal community to engage with information technology and we are definitely amazed by the results,” said additional municipal commissioner Sameer Unhale.

The internet is helping these students understand the syllabus faster, said Dipti Sakhalkar, a teacher at one of the Yeoor schools where she has taught two generations of students. “I have observed that the current lot is learning faster than their parents, mostly due to the exposure to the internet,” said her colleague Prakash Gaikwad.

The survey included students from Thane civic schools located in areas dominated by Katkari, Warli and Malhar Koli communities, among others, settled in and around Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

“Till recently, there were families that stayed in areas without electricity and yet they owned mobile phones. They would charge their mobile phones at their relatives’ places daily in nearby villages that had access to electricity,” said Sulabha Ahire, another teacher.

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