Digitising India with their ideas

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The article is first of five part series that The Peeper Times is writing for Prayag, a first of its kind digital India mela being organised by New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation on Feb 25 at Surajkund, Faridabad.

They say education and empowerment are two sides of the same coin. Without one, the other is incomplete. Perhaps that explains why E-education is one of the major highlights of Modi government’s ambitious Digital India Programme.

While education has always been a focus of Indian government(s), ever since the advent of IT tools, the reach and spread has been tremendous. There are online courses, virtual classrooms and self-learning videos – making education accessible and viable for almost everyone. Nowadays, computers, laptops, mobiles, apps, etc. – everything is being employed to teach people. But given the fact that millions of Indian are illiterates (as per 2011 census, 282.70 million people in 7+ age group don’t know how to read and write), and there are villages where electricity is a luxury; employing digital tools for teaching is no easy task.

“We wanted to educate people by using technology which is already available with them. We realized that mobile penetration in India is more than that of computers. Even people, living in the far-off areas use phones, they are familiar with the technology, and thus do not require special learning classes,” said Sachal Aneja, Asia-Pacific Corporate Engagement Manager, VSO India Trust. The organisation is teaching English to children with the help of SMS. Their SMS-based methodology works like this – selected teachers are provided 3-day training by VSO India Trust. Thereafter, everyday, they receive phonics-based illustrative as well as lesson plans on their mobiles to enable them to teach their students in an interesting and participatory manner. Activity-based teaching-learning methodology is promoted to encourage class participation. This way, interest is generated among children. “We think stories are the best way to teach people. In just 7-8 weeks, we see improvement in the reading and speaking capability of our students,” said Aneja. What’s more, the project doesn’t require smartphones. Since it involves SMS, an ordinary phone can easily be used for the task, thus making it cost-effective.

“We think stories are the best way to teach people. In just 7-8 weeks, we see improvement in the reading and speaking capability of our students”

VSO SMS Story has been successfully implemented in three states – Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Delhi. Encouraged by the response, the organisation is now looking at including other subjects in its SMS purview.

Meanwhile, Uttrakhand-based Shri Bhuvneshwari Mahila Ashram (SBMA) has adopted child-centered community development approach to implement various projects for the development of children and women in rural areas of the state. One of its projects involves setting up Village Knowledge Centers at different locations in the state. “We have set up Village Knowledge Centers at several places, 10 such centers operate in Uttarkashi alone. Each center caters to about 10 schools, that is, it provides basic computer training to their students,” said Gopal Dutt Thapliyal, Project Manager – Uttarkashi, SBMA, adding, “We have tried to expand the scope of our activities at the center. We also provide information related to career, health and hygiene to people.”

However, one of the major challenges before the organization is to retain its trained staff. “Given our budget and time constraints, we can train limited people/teachers. Many times it happens that the teachers we train are transferred. This makes things difficult for us. Also, once a person learns the skills, he moves on,” said Thapliyal.

One of the major challenges before these organizations is to retain their trained staff.

While sustaining trained staff is a major challenge for SBMA, Haryana-based NGO Computer Shiksha, which is actively working towards computer literacy among underprivileged children, has devised an interesting way to overcome this problem. “We are teaching our students through e-learning, that is, we have developed self-learning videos which act as trainers,” said ManMohan Thandi, patron, Computer Shiksha “Even though we do provide 8-days training to teachers, whom we call facilitators, we teach them the basics of both hardware and software. The idea is to ensure that they are able to operate computers of their own and also fix the machines in case of any problem, thus ensuring smooth day-to-day operations.” The NGO collaborates with schools and provides the necessary infrastructure, free-of-cost, for computer education among students – computers, their maintenance, self-learning videos, teacher’s manuals, training, online surveillance of every class, internet, exams and finally certificates.

The ways of reaching out to people may be different for each organisation, but the aim remains the same – education and empowerment of people.

You can meet the representatives of these and several such grassroots organisations doing exceptional work using digital tools at Prayag. The Peeper Times is Digital Empowerment Foundation‘s Media Partner for Prayag which will be held on Feb 25, 2017 at Surajkund, Faridabad, Haryana.

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