New Forms of Adolescent Voice and Agency Through ICT and Mobile Phone Use

Webinar deck | Report

Bangladesh has entered the digital age, with internet users reaching 110.8 million in October 2020. Adolescents growing up in this rapidly digitizing world are unique in having their life experiences and opinions shaped by technology. This unprecedented increase in connectivity with the outside world is changing adolescents’ lived realities by overcoming the boundaries of gender and social norms. Most literature in Bangladesh on this topic has highlighted the health risks to adolescents through the use of internet, and mobile phone, but very little has been done on adolescents’ experience of the way they use it and the impact it has on their knowledge base, skill set and relationships. To address this gap, BIGD undertook qualitative research on “New Forms of Adolescent Voice and Agency through ICT and Mobile Phone use” from August 2019 – February 2020 supported by GAGE. The research explores this issue by looking specifically at 14-year-old adolescents studying in Class 8 in Dhaka and Cumilla.

Findings of the research were presented in a webinar titled “New Forms of Adolescent Voice and Agency Through ICT and Mobile Phone Use“, organized by BIGD by Lopita Huq, Research Fellow, BIGD. It was followed by interventions from experts in the fields of adolescents, education and ICT, and an open discussion.

Honourable Secretary Kazi Rowshan Akhter, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Government of Bangladesh was present as Chair, along with Silvia Guglielmi, Qualitative Researcher, GAGE, ODI; Junnatul Ferdosh (Ani), National Consultant – Educational Innovation, a2i; Dr Ananya Raihan, CEO, iSocial; Sabrina Shaheed, Principal, Sir John Wilson School; Maheen Sultan, Senior Fellow of Practice, BIGD; and M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, Senior Advisor, BIGD, Former Cabinet Secretary, Government of Bangladesh. Dr Imran Matin, Executive Director, BIGD moderated the session.

Through focus group discussions and in-depth interviews, the researchers found that adolescent girls, specifically from middle or lower socioeconomic classes and from rural areas, use their parents’ or siblings’ mobile phones, implying that the time they spend on the devices is limited as they “snatch” bits of time in between uses by the person owning them. These girls are also limited by physical mobility and strict supervision of their parents, which means that they cannot access public Wi-Fi or go out to buy mobile data. The survey also uncovered negative biases in the minds of the parents and teachers who were interviewed as a part of the sample. Parents were found to be worried about possible romantic relationships their children may get involved in, and were unwilling to believe that adolescents use of the internet for educational purposes. So they invariably monitor their daughters’ use of mobile phones and internet more closely than that of sons. Even teachers reported to be providing more opportunity for boys to use computers in ICT labs, assuming their interest and skills over girls.