BeyondHeadlines News Desk
I remember the first time I looked at a computer, way back in the nineties. It gave me the impression of a ‘Mr. I-know-it-all’ encompassed in a box. Wondering how I would ever get the better of this ‘new technological wonder on the block’, it is now safe to say, after almost 20 years, that this innovation has graduated from being an intimidating device to a friend of mine, opening a world of kaleidoscopic options – a key to wonder, and beyond.
It is of no wonder that computer literacy or rather its expanded counterpart – digital literacy – are vital skills to be mastered in this ever changing, globalized, mechanized and technical world. With the Digital India programme, digital literacy has become paramount. Besides survival in a rapidly digitalized world, citizen participation is also enhanced – whether through awareness, participation or collaboration.
The Digital Literacy initiative commenced by the Sehgal Foundation in Nuh District, Haryana and Alwar, Rajasthan, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, has been a kind of a movement. The programme, targeted at adolescents, age group 15 years and above, includes three major components: basics of computer and internet literacy, life skills education and rural governance. These three pillars facilitate the participation of youth in good rural governance through a more aware, motivated and enthusiastic participation, with the objective of bringing about change at the grassroots level.
Based on the social structure, separate classes for boys and girls are conducted. The teacher-student ratio stands at 1:25 (usually a classroom has 25-30 students), which enables ‘learning by doing’ – a vital aspect for understanding the nuances of the computer and internet. The trainers are trained on a regular basis in order to ensure an updated pedagogic perspective.
“Till date, around 1000 students have been trained, both in Alwar and Nuh. The response has been encouraging. Students feel confident, not because they are able to understand the functioning and use of the computer and internet, but also because they are simply more aware, thanks to the exposure this medium provides. Besides this, digital literacy enables them to help themselves and their families in availing the benefits of various government schemes, “ says Swathi Subramaniam, Project Leader, Digital Literacy, Sehgal Foundation.
However, it is not as easy as it sounds. The challenges are many: discipline, especially amongst male students; household chores which take precedence over girl child education; safety and security, amongst many others.
Says Subramaniam: “We focus on the advantages that students could benefit from through the completion of this course. This also applies to school drop-outs. The ‘digital literacy center’ is almost always a part of a school. This is also logistically easier, besides being safer for girl students. The cost of setting up a center is not much, as basic infrastructure is already provided, being part of a school. Of course, lap-tops, lap-tabs and basic additional infrastructure like notice boards, white boards, stationary etc. are all essential.”
The topics covered are diverse, keeping the three pillars: governance, life skills and basic computer literacy in mind. These include hardware and software components of a computer, use of digital devices in daily life/village development, introduction to village governance institutions, Right To Education (RTE), School Management Committees (SMCs), VHSNC (Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committee) , Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), introduction to MS Office, nuances and usage of the internet, using internet for availing various benefits, social media with emphasis on certain apps related to government schemes, online shopping, and many more.
Deepak Verma is a class XI student of Kalsada village, Alwar. Never having attended an IT class before, he now gushes out a list of technical terms pertaining to the world of computers, governance and life skills. Whether the subject pertains to midday meals, SMCs, construction of toilets, health and nutrition, gram panchayats, writing e-mails, checking government schemes on the internet, Deepak emulates confidence. This positive attitude will surely be beneficial not only for this child but also for all those who come in contact with him.
“I remember being fascinated by the idea of learning computers, but in our village there were no such facilities. Then I got to know about the free digital literacy classes being organized by the foundation, within the premises of an existing government school. I enrolled myself quickly, as not only was this a safe route for me to attend classes, but also a unique amalgamation of three important subjects like life skills, governance and computer skills – all under the transforming lives campaign. Imagine my delight when I sent my first e-mail. It was an exciting feeling. I can now work confidently with MS Office, paint brush, notepad etc. and also change the wall paper, date and time on my desktop. I feel this learning has made me more confident. I can speak eloquently about subjects, unknown to me earlier,” says Lakshmi Kumari, Sohanpur Village, Alwar.
So, how has Subramaniam’s journey with this project been like? “I feel that through observing and, subsequently, delivering trainings, I have learnt a lot: life skills, government schemes, digital literacy aspects, interaction with people from different backgrounds, addressing different challenges, and so much more. Having said this, the impact on the students has been tremendous. It has led to a change in mind set: for example girls have stood-up for the perusal of their education, which I feel is a very important step towards development.”
The objective is to reach out to as many students as possible, not only with the aim of encouraging digital literacy, but also with the objective of enabling them to become the future decision makers of tomorrow through sheer empowerment enabled by awareness and participation.