“At least one person from every household to be digitally literate by 2020,” is the mission of the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM). The mission is expected to touch the lives of more than 250 million individuals over the next few years. The project aims at helping adults with low technological literacy develop the skills they need to interact in an increasingly digital world, thereby increasing the opportunity for development and economic viability.
At a national level, the NASSCOM Foundation has pledged support to the NDLM and is working closely with the Department of Electronics & IT (DeitY), Government of India to train an initial pool of one million digitally literate Indians. After the successful inauguration of NDLM Center in Hyderabad, Pune was privileged to witness the second center set up at Annabhau Sathe Samaj Mandir in the Yamuna Nagar slum community, located in Viman Nagar.
Per the press release: the Pune center has been set up in partnership with the Pune Municipal Corporation and NASSCOM Foundation is also being powered by the Zensar Foundation – a CSR initiative by the Pune headquartered IT company Zensar Technologies to back these NDLM centers. Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), has been the implementation partner for the initiative.
With India marching towards a digital and mobile revolution, how could I miss this initiative happening right in my city. The desire to understand how the Yamuna Nagar slum community is using internet convinced the CSR team of Zensar Pune to host me for a Saturday visit.
After an hour long drive, I rode my bike into the area. Finding the center wasn’t difficult in the congested place with narrow lanes. I was escorted by a little girl who knew where the center which is ‘teaching computers’ is.
At the NDLM Pune center
The freshly painted center is a community hall that was buzzing as I parked my bike. After excusing my way at the entry door, I entered a big hall that resembled more like a marriage hall. The entire hall was buzzing with discussions. I heard a group of youngsters talking to another group in Marathi. Right next to the hall there was another room with a classroom setup that had quite a few shining laptops. This was the room where the digital literacy program is being carried out from October with the help of DEF.
After a while I was joined by Sharada Singh who briefed me that the center, for the first time, is having a community mobilizing session with the people residing in Yamuna Nagar. “The basic objective of this project is to build human capacity for response,” shared Sharada who is a part of the CSR team of Zensar Foundation.
Talking a bit more about the mobilizing project, Sharada informed that the idea is to listen to the problems and ask them the right questions on how could the problem be solved. “The idea is to start from positives and since today is the first day of the program we are focusing on community strength. As part of the program we are not allowed to give suggestions but rather probe and ask them. Going further the idea is to guide the people and enable them to solve their problems.”
Citing an example, the Zensar Foundation has been running a similar program in a slum which had severe water problem. “We didn’t fit taps for them but we probed them on their problems. In such discussion it came up that the corporator needed to be approached but the issue was that they couldn’t write a letter. Zensar helped them in drafting a letter but the residents had to take it further.” Today the community has a few taps.
Zensar wants to implement the same learning at Yamuna Nagar while making the residents digitally equipped. Giving a background about the NDLM program, Sharada informed that the entire program from teaching to all ground level execution is being performed by DEF and Zensar is monitoring the entire process.
The program that has been developed by NASCOM is focusing on digital literacy and not on IT literacy. “We don’t teach them computers or MS-Office but we teach them how to use the Internet and get their work done. For example we teach them how to submit college forms online, or how to carry out online banking transactions, checking college results or studying the government schemes that one is eligible for. While people learnt how to do all this, the basics of operating a computer is already learnt,” added Sharada.
Mobile playing a role in digital literacy
Mobile plays a vital role in this curriculum since India is the fastest growing smartphone nation in Asia. The center has two smartphones along with a set of 5 desktops and 3 laptops funded by Zensar and they are also brought into play when chapters like how to browse internet from mobiles are taught. Besides the entire curriculum can also be learnt on a smartphone.
In fact there is a young girl who is educating herself about the curriculum on her Android smartphone. “The day I informed the class how smartphones can be used to access the internet and consume information, one girl from my batch after taking required info bought a data pack. The next day she had Internet enabled with my help and today she is using the smartphone for all her work,” informed Mohini Jagtap.
Mohini is a young computer educated girl who hails from Baramati. At the NDLM center, she teaches all the seven batches from Monday to Saturday. Talking more about the program and her joy to be a part of the NGO, she shared that the batches start from eight in the morning and have a maximum presence of 15-17 students. The enthusiasm has been quite peppy from day one; students who were quite scared to touch computers are now very excited to learn more about the Internet.
“Most of my students are school going children and they get to learn more from the internet. We also have a special batch for women in the afternoon who took a lot of time to pick up the course but today come up with questions like – Can we know who is my husband talking to on Whatsapp,” said the teacher smiling about the new challenges at her end.
Meanwhile we were served tea in small plastic cups. Taking a few sips, I had the chance to quickly go through the curriculum that focuses majorly on how to use the Internet, email, social media and the ability to search and get the day-to-day jobs done.
Illiteracy remains the big challenge
However, the biggest challenge for the teacher and the course is that a lot of participants are not educated and don’t know anything beyond basic English alphabets. For such students the two month program spills into one extra month for basic English education. “For my ladies batch, I had to start from the basics of English alphabets and then go to basics of computers and internet. Teaching them isn’t easy since when they come here they always have their family problems revolving in their head. I have to relax them a bit for 10 minutes and then move to the curriculum.”
Today things are changing slowly; a lot of girls who couldn’t complete their education for family problems are joining the center in their free time. “They all want to know about Internet and don’t want to be left behind. This mentality is with a lot of the young girls and women who never had any education. They have a belief that learning internet could make their life a bit better,” added Mohini who happens to be a favorite among the students who come to the center.
The teacher today is doing her best to educate and translate the entire curriculum in Marathi and Hindi to make them understand what it means in English. This is taking time and money but both DEF and Zensar Foundation are sticking to their goal of making India digitally literate.
Even though it is a small step and there is a long way to go, the program is taking the powers of Internet to the last mile – a section that often gets missed out.