Prabha and her daughter Sonali are the two women from Bijawar with whom we have been talking since the inception of this project, both to gauge the interest of people in computer education and to have someone on the ground who could communicate with other people, such as the principals of the high schools. Prabha is a high school teacher, and Sonali is a tutor at a girls’ hostel who is also paying for computer lessons through a local school. We had asked for them to arrange local women teachers and other interested, engaged women to meet with us on the evening of December 26.

Ten women, plus Prabha and Sonali, showed up, with varying levels of computer experience. Some had never touched a computer before, while others had taken a few hours of classes but never used the skills they learned. Three are teachers in Bijawar and two teach in even smaller villages. One woman works at an NGO, helping to build latrines.

We learned that there a reasonable amount of computers in Bijawar households – estimates put the percentage at anywhere between 30-60%, although that number seems very high to me and probably reflects the higher social class in which these women socialize. Some households have internet connectivity, which they mostly use to run small businesses, charging people for downloading and filling out government job application forms and getting test results posted online. Computers are being used quite a lot for official business, including banking (through the State Bank of India), the village panchayat (government), and the court. The Indian government has provided computers for the boys’ high school, and the girls’ high school is expected to receive some in April. In fact, the girls’ high school already has computers that are several years old and seem to be unusable. I’m planning on visiting both schools in the next few days to see for myself what the condition of the computers is.

The teachers don’t use computers, even if they are available at their schools, due to a lack of training and free time, and there have been very few attempts to teach computer literacy to the teachers at these school. The schemes have all failed due to four factors: they cost too much money, they were offered during inconvenient times (such as during the school day, while teachers are busy at their jobs!), the strange electricity schedule in Bijawar (more on this later), and finally, the dearth of opportunities to use the knowledge learned.

It’s important for a sustainable system that these teachers see the value in passing on the computer literacy they might learn. Teachers could be incentivized to learn and then teach computer skills with if someone subsidized the purchase of a laptop for their personal and work use, on the promise that they would teach in a government school. The model that might work is the same model that most other teachers use, in which they teach everyone at government schools and then tutor their most promising students (who must also have the money to afford private tutoring) in order to supplement their income. It might be possible to subsidize low-income students for such private tutoring as well.

To ensure that students and teachers are getting the opportunity to exercise their computer skills on a daily basis, the curriculum must incorporate them, the same way as is expected in the US. Papers and problem sets and essays must be written on the computer, so that students get a chance to practice their typing and computer skills. I understand that most government school students don’t have access to computers at home, so time must be made in the school day for them to finish typed assignments. Perhaps teachers could require one assignment a month to involve computer use. The utility of computers for students is the power of easy revision – when papers and assignments are written in longhand, it is difficult to write more than one draft or to fix mistakes; on a computer, such actions are trivial.