Bringing e-literacy to Nagaland villages

Trainers arrive in villages and makeshift classrooms are set up – that’s rural Nagaland taking confident strides towards learning all about e-governance

pratap

Pratap Vikram Singh | June 27, 2013



For a government, the task of informing and educating people about their rights and entitlements is as important as formulating and implementing these rights and entitlements. Failing to do so, the government ends up spending taxpayers’ money without substantial amelioration in people’s lives. It also creates gaps of information, education and employability within the society. A project being implemented by the information technology department of the government of Nagaland is trying to address these gaps by using information and communications technology (ICT).

Under various e-governance initiatives, the government has made available information about various schemes relating to grants, concessions and subsidy online. As the level of automation in government increases, several services will be delivered online.  However, e-literacy is a primary challenge in providing access to e-services and information available over the internet, be it any rural society in the country including Naga.

Language is another barrier. The state population is divided into 16 major tribes and sub-tribes. Each tribe follows its own culture and speaks its own language (Nagamese being one common language spoken and understood across the 11 districts). Very few people in the rural Naga society understand English, and therefore, the online information made available to the population has another barrier.

Solution

In 2009, the state department of information technology received a project proposal by a Deemapur-based organisation, Shibah Welfare, titled ‘mobile classroom’, regarding dissemination of information and imparting computer training to villagers. The methodology, as proposed, was to send a team of computer trainers to a village and set up open classrooms for the villagers where they can have hands-on experience of using computers and the internet. Besides, the project intended to provide information on the best agricultural practices for farmers.

In addition to this, it also aimed at providing all kinds of information and documentation support to the village entrepreneurs in preparing business proposals. The proposal applications have to be written in English and the mobile classroom project aims to fix this language gap as well.
The mobile classroom project aims “to bridge the digital divide between the urban and rural masses in their daily lives”.

Implementation

Seeing merit in the ‘mobile classroom’ proposal, the department of information technology and communication (IT&C), government of Nagaland, sanctioned a pilot project which would cover seven villages from three districts. The pilot project started in 2010 in Kigwema village of Kohima district and was completed in April 2011.

The mobile classroom team typically has two members, a trainer and an assistant, who train the villagers with the help of 20 laptops, a projector and a printer. The internet connectivity is provided through Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT – a satellite communications system that serves home and business users). The classes run for two months. Though some of the course material is in English, the teaching language is Nagamese.

Shibah Welfare is the implementing agency for the project. According to Shibah, the two-month programme does not have a fixed syllabus. The agency follows a simple strategy. It starts with playing some useful videos to the villagers — to attract their attention. Gradually they are taught how to use a word processor application and later how to surf internet.

The two-hour class starts at 6 o’clock in the morning and is mainly attended by senior villagers, including members of the boards and councils. Students join the class in the post-lunch period. In the evening, the class is joined by the farmers who come back from their fields by then.

During the pilot, the implementing agency was being paid Rs 1.50 lakh for conducting the programme in each village.

Inside the classroom

In an evening classroom in Chalkot village of Peren district, a score of people, mostly women, were present. Every single attendant in the classroom (made up of bamboo walls and slanted tin roofs) had laptops. All eyes were on the projector screen, which was acting as a display for a video on dairy farming. This was the third day of the class in the village. For the initial one hour, the instructor played video on dairy farming. Later, he taught the class about the using a word processor application.

For Thangvum, a rice cultivator and one of the attendants, the programme is an opportunity to learn computers and compete with the people who are have advanced knowledge in the field. Phallum, 15, who left her school after passing seventh standard, joined the programme because she dreams of opening a computer kiosk in the village.

Another student in the class is Lullum, 24, who plans to open a shop for mobile recharge purpose in the village. He came to the class to learn how he could recharge phones through the internet. Thangboi, 30, is another fellow villager attending the class. Like Phallum, he left his schooling before completing matriculation and now wants to continue his learning, even after school. 

Lamkholum, 40, is secretary to the village development board and is also a rice farmer. He came to the class to enquire about the best practices in rice cultivation.

Outcome

According to Shibah Welfare, the mobile classroom initiative not only spreads IT literacy but it also helps the villagers and village entrepreneurs in their respective professions.

The programme intends to educate the members of the village council and sub-councils. A village council in Nagaland is equivalent to a village panchayat in other states and plays an important role in shaping the public opinion in the village. The council has various sub-councils on development, education, health, electricity and water.

The trainer helps the village entrepreneur in preparing project documents for getting institutional finances or some kind of subsidy under various schemes. Earlier, the villagers had to shell out Rs 8,000 to Rs 9,000 to get the documents prepared from a private agency at the district headquarters.

According to the implementing agency, it has provided documentation support to the people in a couple of villages who were willing to apply for financial assistance for opening poultry farms. It has also helped villagers in securing assistance from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

Since the mobile classroom is familiarising villagers about various schemes and methods to avail services offered under such schemes, it is creating a lot of awareness on the electronic service delivery front too. So, once most of the government-to-citizen services are put online after the completion of mission mode projects (MMPs) like e-district.

Challenges

The villagers perceive that computers are meant only for the highly educated and sophisticated people and are of no use to them. Changing that perception is a big challenge. Getting a seamless connectivity and power supply in the villages is another major roadblock in successfully running the programme. Also, there are language problems. The medium of instruction is usually Nagamese, while most of the content on the internet is in English.

Transportation is yet another perpetual issue in the hilly state. Travelling to the villages is always a problem as most of the roads to the villages are not in good shape. Moreover, there are some villages which do not have roads at all.

Road ahead

Though the agency has covered multiple villages in the pilot stage of the project, its eventual target is to cover all the 1,264 villages in a span of five years. A detailed project report has been submitted to the department of electronics and information technology (DeitY), government of India, for project funding. 

(feedback@governancenow.com)

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