By Deepjyoti Baruah
It is a known fact that approximately 70% of India resides in rural areas. As per the 71st NSSO Survey on Education 2014, only 6% of rural households have a computer. This indicates the fact that more than 15 crore households do not have computers, and a significant number of these households are likelytobe digitally illiterate.
The Pradhan MantriGramin Digital SakshartaAbhiyan (PMGDISHA), being initiated under the Digital India Programme,aims to cover 6 crore households in rural areas with the aim of achieving digital literacy for these families (source: vikaspedia.in).
We have all heard the famous adage of democracy being of the people, by the people and for the people. This applies not only when we, as citizens, avail our rights and entitlements, but it also duly applies at the time of the execution of our duties and responsibilities, as citizens, towards the country.
Our Father of the Nation, late Mahatma Gandhi had said: "Be the change you want to see."
In order to initiate change, it has to be initiated at the level of the individual, and by the individual. In addition, generation of awarenessto encourage community sensitization, followed by community mobilization and participation, are vital.
The same applies to organizations too, which, with the passage of time and introduction of policies, have felt the need to contribute back to society. One such initiative is the OIL (Oil India Limited)
Dikhya project, which as per OIL, strengthens its commitment in socio-economic domains, encompassing education as one of the most pertinent areas, indispensable for not only the holistic developmentofthe individual but also for the society.
Seven programmes under this project are implemented in coordination with IL & FS Education and Training Services (IETS) and The State Institute of Panchayat and Rural Development (SIRD), Assam in the OIL operation areas of Upper Assam. One such interesting programme is called the Computer Bus Programme.
I remember the first time I sat in front of a computer, wondering what the 'box' entailed, and how I would ever learn to operate this seemingly complex apparatus. I was eighteen years old, and little did
I know that this 'box' held the 'key to the wide world'. Many years later, this experience helped me fathom the amazement a bunch of kids would have felt on their first introduction to the world of digital literacy.
Launched in 2012 for students of rural schools after a baseline study, the project is being implemented in 30schools (classes VI to VIII) covering the areas of Dibrugrah, Tinsukia and Sivasagar.
The programme has so far benefited more than 26,500 students via custom designed and fabricated mobile buses/vans.
On my first introduction to the bus, I could not help but smile: the design and the colour palette that 'adorn' the bodies of the buses are simply charming, striking a connect almost immediately; that is also, exactly, the idea: to form a bond almost instantaneously. Each 'computer bus' is essentially a 24-seater, converted into a computer lab, equipped with 12 laptops, a mobile library, and colourful furniture making it children-friendly and a delightful teaching-learning space.
The syllabus is divided into two levels covering topics like: Introduction to Computers, Paint Brush,
MS Word, MS Powerpoint, Internet, CD/DVD usage and burning, among others. Each session on the computer bus is, on an average, of 45 minutes duration, and two students share one lap-top.
Depending on the number of students in a school, each computer bus increases the computer sessions per day accordingly. The visitsvary from 1-4 days per week per school.
Coming back to the 'moving library', which is an important component that encourages the habit of reading:books are one of man's best friends, and inculcation of an early reading habit is vital for the holistic development of a child. The 'moving library' encourages students to borrow books, respect them by using them properly, and even encourages writing summaries of the content to read, thereby enhancing both reading and writing skills. IETS has also designed books on computer education, in regional languages, which facilitates the theoretical aspect with utmost ease.
The objective of the computer bus is not only to provide a supportive and stimulating environment for students to learn, unlearn and relearn, but also to encourage students to reach their full potential as independent learners. The concept is such a hit amongst students that a spike in attendance is observed on the day the computer bus visits the schools, which has since remained sustained. The possibility of learning something new, applying it in one's life and also spreading this knowledge has resulted in a boost in confidence too, besides of school attendance.
I even heard that when children are posed the question: "What do you learn in school?" they respond unanimously, "We arelearning computers!", and that too with a sense of pride in their voices.
Says young RajudinGogoi: "I did not know what a computer was, and was fascinated the moment I was taught how to switch one on. Weall get to learn something new each time, as part of the session. It is so exciting!" Mustafa Zahid Alam, a teacher on the computer bus, adds: "It is an enriching experience both for students and teachers. Many students who attend the session have never seen a lap-top, let alone operate one. Guiding students to navigate through this entirely new experience is a journey for us too. Besides,teaching them something new each time, and broadening their horizons through access to the internet and other digital literacy tools, has seen a soar in their confidence. This is what is most heartening."
As per a survey conducted an external party, 96% of students surveyed in the 30schools covered gave first preference to the computer bus, amongst all CSR initiatives implemented in their school. This feedback applies to teachers and parents too.
This experience brings to mind a famous quote by painter Pablo Picasso: "I am always doing that which
I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." This initiative by Oil India Limited goes to prove that nothing is impossible to do or learn, only if we believe in ourselves and the cause, amalgamating it with sheer grit and determination.