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Child's play on the net

By , agencyfaqs! | In | May 24, 2002
A new study targets school children to try and find out what future netizens would be like


The net may be down, but it certainly is not out. Even as those who resented the creation of overnight millionaires on the Internet were gleefully dancing around the pyres of sundry dotcoms, the net has been growing quietly. And it has been helped along by efforts from many areas - schools, local administration, states keen to adopt e-governance. In fact, schools have been identified as a prime target for the growth of the new medium, and the net has been slowly weaving in. It is a pattern of usage that is being looked at now.

A new study - NetKidz - by NetSense™, an Internet research organisation has been released. This is the fourth in the series of researches released by Renaissance Management Consultants, Pune, and it is one of the first studies that attempt to understand the Internet usage of school going children.

A key finding of the study was that the cyber café is the dominant access point for school kids, with 48 per cent accessing the net from a cafe, as Internet access in schools lags behind. The age of entry into the category has been declining and there were users who were younger than 10 years of age. However, such less-than-10-year-old surfers are mostly those who are lucky enough to have a computer and net connection at home. Interestingly, Cartoon Network emerges as the No 3 site among children below 10 years of age.

The study also makes some interesting predictions. Based on the fact that gender bias in net usage is much lower among school users, the study predicts that women will emerge as a large segment on the Internet in the next 20 years. Currently, the ratio is skewed in favour of men.

The study does not bode well for net sites determined to charge for content. Confirming that the users of tomorrow are as unlikely to pay for the net as the users of today, free email sites like usa.net and 123india that later asked users to shell out money for their services, quickly lost their popularity among children, says the study.

However, there is good news for e-commerce. Despite a relative lack of purchasing power and lack of access to credit cards, when compared to adults, kids are relatively keen on online shopping. And, they are much more friendly to online advertising. The study says 14.1 per cent of kids clicked through on advertisement at least once per page view. About 8.8 per cent of net-kids have bought online with purchases limited to low-risk items like cassettes, cinema tickets, caps etc. Another 17.3 per cent of online children visit shopping sites and use these sites to make comparisons or be better informed before they buy something offline. Auction sites like Baazee.com have some salience among older kids in the north. Going by content, at an aggregate level, sites with sport and entertainment content score well among kids, with cartoon network, WWF and ESPN-STAR being the more popular ones.

Regarding usage, the study says that among school children, usage of computers and the Internet among children is primarily entertainment driven, with computer games being a preferred mode of entry into the medium. And surfing the net comes later on. Entertainment and chat are the top two functionalities and email, e-greetings and online gaming are among the most popular applications.

As children grow older they tend to spend more time on the net, and on more serious pursuits such as using the Internet for projects and examination preparation. Yahoo!, Rediff, Hotmail, Indiatimes and MSN emerge as the stickiest sites among school users. On a scale of 70, the top sticky sites were Yahoo! with 61.3, followed by Rediff with 45.1, Hotmail with 23.5, Indiatimes at 17.5, MSN at 14.4, Google at 13.6, Indya at 10, WWF at 8.5, Cartoon Network at 7.8, and ESPN-STAR at 7.3.

Younger users set a lot on multiple uses available at a site - email, search and browsing. In a feature that is confirmed by other studies, word of mouth was easily the most dominant source of new site information. Another important communication tool regarding new sites was television. Many of the sports and entertainment sites were sites with a television presence. Teachers who used the net also had a key influence when it came to introducing children to new sites. Language sites have low salience and upmarket English-speaking schools dominate net usage. At an aggregate level, fear of the Internet becoming an impediment to normal activity seems exaggerated. Students today feel that the net has been integrated into normal life, and use the Internet only when required, says the study.

While younger teachers are avid net users, with over 70 per cent of the teachers who surf the net having less than 10 years teaching experience, older teachers tend to be a bit wary of it. Being uncomfortable with technology, the lack of access to the net at school, were some of the reasons citied for this. The study recommends that this is an issue of concern for the net community, as the study contends that teachers can greatly influence the usage of the net by children.

For the one-month study, questionnaires were administered house to house in eight cities - Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and Chandigarh - in the period November-December 2001. Surveyors were allotted different zones of the city in order to ensure that no geographical bias slipped in, according to the company. For the purpose of the survey, an Internet user was defined as somebody who had used the Internet in the last one month. A non-user was defined as someone who was aware of the Internet but had not used it. The student sample was restricted to school going children.

At least 30 per cent of the school goers were female. The break up of the different age groups was something like this. Students from Standard 1 to 5 constituted 10 per cent; students Standard 6 onwards formed the rest, and at least 40 per cent of the sample was Internet users. The study did not consider teachers at computer institutes, but confined itself to schoolteachers. An average of 250 people were contacted in each city. In addition to the questionnaire, in depth interviews were conducted with a cross-section of 25 students as well as teachers. © 2002 agencyfaqs!