Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday virtually launched the second phase of the “Punjab Smart Connect Scheme”, marked by the distribution of smartphones to another 80,000 Class-12 students of government schools.

The event witnessed simultaneous distribution of phones in 845 schools by various ministers, MLAs and other dignitaries across the state, an official statement said here.

This will facilitate seamless e-learning in government schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it said.

Launching the second phase at the Government Senior Secondary School in Bhelolpur here, the chief minister announced that the remaining 45,443 smartphones of the targeted 1,75,443 would be provided to students by the end of this month to fulfil the Congress government’s commitment to further strengthen digital infrastructure in schools.

He said while his government had tried to distribute these phones urgently to meet the online education challenges amid the pandemic, the closure of the industry had somewhat delayed the process.

In the first phase, 50,000 students had received smartphones. Under the scheme, the state government is spending Rs 87.84 crore for the digital empowerment of 88,059 boys and 87,284 girls, the statement said.

The chief minister said 877 tablet computers were also provided in 22 senior secondary schools on Friday at a cost of Rs one crore. Earlier, 2,625 tablet computers were provided to 372 primary schools at a cost of Rs 2.99 crore.

Addressing the students, Singh said when the Congress had promised that smartphones would be given to students in its manifesto for the last Assembly polls, nobody knew that these phones would become so vital for them due to the pandemic.

He said he wants Punjab’s youngsters to be abreast with the latest technological advancements for an effective promotion of digital education, which leverages technology in a big way in the present scenario.

The chief minister said smartphones and tablet computers would equip the students to meet the challenges of education during the trying times of the pandemic.

Singh reiterated his government’s firm commitment to providing the best infrastructure in schools to enable the students to compete with their peers in private and convent schools. In this context, he said 7,842 schools were converted into smart schools with the latest infrastructure, coupled with computers, tablet computers etc. and 1,400 more government schools would also be converted into smart schools by the end of the next year.

Further, he said the School Education department has converted 16,589 classrooms into smart classrooms across the state and the remaining would also be covered under the scheme in the next six months.

The chief minister congratulated the teachers for preparing the e-content, which is now being used while teaching students online, and stressed the need for keeping up with the fast-paced changes in education globally.

The state government has ensured that every student studying in government schools gets the best education with the help of latest gadgets, he said.

“Punjab is the first state in the country to universalise pre-primary school education in 2017 itself and the same is now fully operational in all primary schools.

“As many as 8,393 posts of pre-primary school teachers have been created and the same would be filled shortly,” Singh said, adding that the introduction of the online transfer policy for teachers, based on merit and performance, was another major step taken by his government to raise the bar in education by bringing transparency into the system.

He said the reforms implemented in the government schools to raise the standard of education have led to an “unprecedented increase in the number of enrolments by 14.9 per cent as an increasing number of students are shifting from private to government schools”.

He also underlined the need to promote sports education, for which his government is planning to set up gymnasiums in all schools.

Conceding to the demand of minister Balbir Singh Sidhu, who is also the MLA from Mohali, the chief minister announced that the Government Senior Secondary School at Bhelolpur would be upgraded to the senior secondary level and named after 1971 war hero Captain Ami Singh, who was awarded the Vir Chakra.