For some time now, my family has wanted to start a computer education program in Bijawar, the small village in Madhya Pradesh, India, where my dad grew up. His mother – my grandmother – still spends most of her time there, although her children and their families all live elsewhere.
According to the 2001 census, Bijawar has a population of 18,412 people, of which 53% are male and 47% are female. The literacy rate is 59%, which is a very little bit lower than the national average literacy rate of 59.5%. Males are 66% literate and females are 50% literate. (1). To my knowledge, the economy is mostly agricultural.
The advent of digital literacy in this small village would open up a new economic avenue for a great number of people.
This winter, my plan is to spend three weeks in Bijawar (my first visit in three years!) to determine the infiltration of computer education among both teenagers and adults, begin introducing high school teachers to computing, and develop a plan for a sustainable computer literacy program. By design, these goals are vague and subject to change. I refuse to start this process with preconceptions about what is needed on the ground and prefer to help people in this community actualize their own goals, instead of swooping in to solve all the problems the global North thinks they have. I’m trying to get away from the "modern missionary" mentality.
I’d like to introduce computer literacy to middle- and high-school aged students, mostly because kids who grow up with technological fluency are most able to use their knowledge as adults. The most obvious way would be to simply step into schools and teach the students how to use computers.
The sustainability of this program, however, is perhaps the most important aspect. Three weeks is not enough time to teach an entirely new skill set to 12-17 year old students. I am also not a trained teacher. I believe they would be better served if I focused on training teachers how to use computers to supplement their lessons, with the possible additional goal of helping to train people to be teachers themselves. My family and I have identified some teachers from the high schools who are very interested in learning a new skill, so this idea has some potential.
I’m also thinking about teaching other individuals, probably women, how to use computers with the idea that they might be able to supplement their families’ incomes with a job in data entry or something similar. I’m not yet sure whether this is something I want to do, or whether it’s even viable.
From the information I’ve gathered so far, the Indian government recently granted the boys’ high school with some computers, although I think they might be intended for the teachers’ use, rather than for the students. I’m not sure if anyone knows how to use them or what state they’re in. The girls’ high school has had computers for a few years now, but again, I don’t know if anyone uses them or if they’ve been kept in good condition. There are some households with computers, but the number is probably quite low. There is also no Internet connectivity, barring the expensive option of purchasing a wireless data card. I think there might be some government plans to roll out broadband or wireless to villages such as Bijawar, but I’m not sure what the timeline is on that.
There are private tutoring ("tuition") computer literacy programs for those with the proper motivation and potential, as well as a significant amount of money. As far as I can tell, there is basically no way for the average student in Bijawar to use a computer on a regular basis, so my plan is to bring this type of education to a broader audience. Fair warning: my supposition may not be correct, so we’ll see what the situation is really like when I get there.
I’m leaving the US on December 23, with plans to be in Bijawar from December 26 to January 13. Once I get to Bijawar, my internet connection is going to be limited and erratic, so I don’t know how many posts I’ll manage to actually publish while away. Rest assured I will be writing, though!