The Punjab Cabinet on Wednesday paved the way for distribution of 1,73,823 smartphones, by November, to boys and girls of government schools, preparing to take their Class XII Board exams this year through online education amid the Covid pandemic.

Distribution of the first batch of 50000 phones, which has already been received by the state government, will begin shortly. The phones will be equipped with various smart features such as touch screen, camera and pre-loaded government applications like ‘e-Sewa App’ with e-content related to Class XI and Class XII, as approved by the department of school education.

The second batch will be procured soon, and the entire distribution process will be completed by November, said an official spokesperson after a meeting of the state Cabinet, which has approved the modalities for distribution.

The Cabinet noted that four months of the academic year 2020-21 had already elapsed without regular on-campus classes, and while private schools were undertaking online classes, the students of government schools faced a competitive disadvantage, especially those studying in Class XII.

Though he had initially announced that the first batch of the smartphones, received just a few days ago, would be given to girls, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said today that both boys and girls of Class XII government schools, who do not have smartphones to access the online classes that have currently replaced physical education, will be provided with the same.

As part of its election promises, the Punjab government had announced ‘The Punjab smart Connect scheme in its budget for the Financial Year 2018-19. The scheme was aimed at providing digital access to youth, as well as information regarding education, career opportunities, access to skill development and employment opportunities, in addition to basic citizen-centric services through government applications etc.

In a September 2019  meeting, the Cabinet had decided to distribute mobile phones to about 1.6 lakh girl students not owning a smartphone and studying in class 11th and 12th in the government schools during fiscal 2019-20. The contract was signed with M/s Lava International Ltd. after an open competitive bidding process. However, during the process of procurement and delivery of smartphones, the country was hit by COVID-19 pandemic and the delivery and distribution of the smartphones could not take place in the academic year 2019-20, an official spokesperson said.