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The Punjab Cabinet on Wednesday paved the way for distribution of 1.78 lakh smartphones to class 12 students of state government schools by November. The distribution of the first batch of 50,000 phones, which has already been received by the state government, will begin shortly, an official spokesperson said.

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 11 and class 12, 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 the 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, while private schools were undertaking online classes, the students of government schools faced a competitive disadvantage, especially those studying in class 12.

Though he had initially announced that the first batch of the smartphones would be given to girls, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said both boys and girls of class 12 government schools, who do not have smartphones to access online classes, will be provided the same.

This was necessary to ensure that these students do not suffer in the times of the pandemic due to lack of access to education.

With this, the state government will fulfil yet another of its election promises and implement the 'Punjab smart connect scheme', which it had announced 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.

Before coming to power in 2017, the state Congress had promised to give free smartphones to youth in the state.

In a meeting held in September last year, the cabinet had decided to distribute mobile phones to about 1.6 lakh girl students not owning a smartphone and studying in classes 11 and 12 in the government schools during the fiscal 2019-20.

The contract was signed with a company called Lava International Ltd. after an open competitive bidding process.

However, during the process of procurement and delivery of smartphones, the country was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and as a result, the delivery and distribution of the smartphones could not take place in the academic year 2019-20.
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