We had a meeting today with Neha, Divya, Neeta, Menka, and Sonali to discuss our project at a higher, more village-wide level. We’ve been working with the teachers for a week now, and we’d like them to be more involved in the planning process. They know Bijawar, their schools, and their students better than we do, and in order for any change to be sustainable, they have to be invested in and responsible for the work. The ideal, for me, would be to step back at some undetermined point in the near future and have an institution that works entirely on its own, led by the people here.

The main point that came out of this two-hour discussion was that training teachers in computers must become compulsory, which will be necessarily accompanied by computer education becoming a part of the government school curriculum. The women believe that this effort will become fully actualized within the next few years.

There is a teacher training camp held every summer for two weeks, in which master trainers go through the coming year’s curriculum and instruct the teachers on how to teach their students. It was suggested that one teacher from each school be trained through a similar government effort so that they can train others when they go back to their school.

The ‘too many students, too few computers’ problem was also discussed. The suggestions were mainly along the lines of instituting an hour or two before the official start of school in which teachers can work with interested students. Again, this problem will be better solved if and when the government mandates computer education, because the needed time can then be taken out of the school day.

The current generation of students, according to these women, is heavily into the computer ‘craze,’ both because it’s trendy and because they see that computer skills are an integral part of participating in an increasingly globalized world. This new generation is also more interested in solving India’s problems and concerned about its problems than the previous one. They’re more united in asking for their rights and forming mass movements to exact change. In the nearby city of Chhatarpur, entire blocks of people refused to vote to register their distaste for some political process. I’m not sure whether this is a phenomenon specific to a generation or whether it is a function of the idealism that accompanies youth of any generation. It might be some of both.

The women also want to see the establishment of a computer center in order to provide computer access to people (especially teachers) who don’t have (and can’t afford to buy) one for themselves. At Menka’s school, some of the teachers are thinking about pooling their money to purchase a laptop for the group with which they can begin teaching students.

The biggest obstacles they see themselves facing in continuing to develop their computer skills are time and money, as well as the social pressures exacted on young, unmarried women. For example, it’s dark by 7:00 pm, which is when they come by every night to work with us. It’s frowned upon here for women to be walking around after dark, but they’ve made that commitment to come anyway because they want to learn. Many of the women are escorted by their husbands, fathers, or older male children on the way here and back, or they travel in groups.

One woman talked about how she doesn’t feel right asking her parents for thousands of rupees to get her PGDCA (some sort of degree in computer education) because they are expected to spend hundreds of thousands of rupees on the weddings of she and her four sisters.

I’m really glad we had this meeting, because it helped bring everyone up to speed on the research we’ve done and figure out how the motivated teachers are thinking, what their needs are, and how we can help them. That was, after all, the original plan.