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Digital India – Technology Pushes Literacy

“She told me that her desire to talk to her Dubai-based son over video call made her learn computer at this age. I congratulated her and asked her to inspire other ladies around her to learn computer and be a part of #TransformingIndia under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

My salute to Korutla Sathamma Korutla from Karimnagar, Telangana who is getting digital literacy at 58 thru @CSCegov_ pic.twitter.com/MQCGICs9ms

— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) March 9, 2016

This is an appreciation tweet from Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology for fifty eight-year-old Korutla Sattamma, a Beedi worker from Telangana. She is among the few lakhs who have enrolled for the government’s digital literacy programme, but what sets her apart is her enthusiasm to learn and her interest in getting more women into the fold of the Digital IndiaNational Digital Literacy Mission (NLDM) , in the computer literacy  drive by the Indian government.

While her motivation, Fsays the  CSC owner, Amballa Manohar, is the need to  learn how to operate the Smartphone and Skype for connecting with her son, the drive has given wings to a large number of rural Indians who could not even dream to work on a  computer just a year ago.

Another good example of the transformation is Baijanti, an illiterate woman from the remote village of Bhusia in Gaya district of Bihar. When the NDLM scheme was launched in her village, Baijanti and 19 other SHG workers enrolled for IT training.

The government’s Digital India Program was launched to transform India into digitally empowered society and computer literate economy, mainly to make sure that all Government services are available to citizens electronically. This would help to increase the reach of these services for a geographically vast country like ours. Another objective of the Digital India program was to create public accountability since the mandated delivery of Government’s services was now to be done electronically.

So, in the Digital India program, the government wanted to provide much greater digital connectivity  and accessibility for the larger part of the country. For instance,  Broadband Highways that would assure universal Access to Mobile Connectivity, a  Public Internet Access Programme and various  e-Governance initiatives, that included  e-Kranti – Electronic Delivery of Services.  These would ensure Information for All and as a by product, also give a boost to Electronics Manufacturing and create a generation of IT abled employment.

To reap the benefits from these initiatives, one of the basic requirements will be Digital literacy. Digital literacy is therefore a key component of the Government’s vision of building an empowered society as envisaged under “Digital India initiative”. Spinoff effects of digital literacy especially in the context of rural India would address a number of socio-economic issues.

Accordingly, the  Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (DISHA) and under it, the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) was formulated. The National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) was launched in 2014 by the Hon’ble Prime Minister with the objective of providing digital literacy to 52.5 lakh persons, including Anganwadi and ASHA workers and authorised ration dealers in all the States/UTs across the country. This would enable them to use IT and related applications, thus empowering them to  play an active role in the development plans, and participate effectively in the democratic process. With information and the ability to connect available, this would also help them enhance their livelihood.

However, a project of this size cannot have been without challenges from every direction. Says Dr. Dinesh Kumar Tyagi,   CEO, CSC SPV, ”The major challenge was the task of identification of the person from each household. There was a need for  development of multilingual content in all scheduled languages. The design of the framework of content was important, specially recognizing the fact that training should be relevant to one and all for  keeping up with the current technology development.  The task of implementing the scheme across the States and Union territories of India was a mammoth.  There was a need to empanel training partners and training centers who in turn were supposed to provide the necessary training to the candidates under the scheme. The online examination of the candidates at one time with limited resources especially in the backward regions of the country with poor connectivity was also a major challenge”.

The initiative had strong support of industry organisations and had partners from the enterprise to help with training and certifications.  The partnership with NASSCOM Foundation meant that there would be four very strong stakeholders- the technology companies who were members of the body, NGOs, emerging social enterprises that NASSCOM Foundation nurtures and the Government of India’s development arm. NASSCOM Foundation’s role was to promote NDLM to nearly 2000 member companies and align the training content with the industry requirement. It also helped in mobilizing financial and human resources form the industry, helped set up training centres and monitored the quality of training across the country.

IT Giant Intel also played a big role in NDLM, given its basic vision to reduce the digital divide within the country, and making some real efforts in teaching basic computer literacy to enhance social self sufficiency across the rural parts of the country.

In addition, global support for NDLM came from international organisations like UNESCO, which is known for its work on mobilising resources for education globally.  Other partners were the  Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), it establishes the finding and deployment of sustainable Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions. In the context of DISHA, its contribution was in terms of  providing support to bridge the digital divide in under-served and unreached regions and communities of the country. Another such organisation, an NGO, was IT for Change (ITfC) that works for the effective use of IT in the global south, to empower sections on social justice and gender equality.

For training partners , NDLM had academic institutions to support in terms of training and certification for Digital Literacy . The certification partner there was  National Institute of Electronics & Information Technology (NIELIT), an autonomous scientific society under the administrative control of Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY), Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India. NIELIT was incorporated to provide  non- formal as well as formal education in the areas of technology and IT. It is also a premier institution that provides certifications for Information, Electronics & Communications Technology (IECT), and for NDLM, it provided the examination support and training for candidates that were being trained.

In addition, the  National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) also provided the exam support and certification of candidates for DISHA along with IGNOU  and IGNOU.

Identifying training partners for the project was another very crucial task. How did they do it?  “There are certain parameters for the identification of training partner. They must be an organization registered in India, conducting business in the domain of education/ IT literacy for more than three years, having Permanent Income Tax Account Number (PAN) and audited accounts of statements for at least last three years,” says Dr. Tyagi.

“A training partner shall be responsible to have or appoint the Training Centers in the identified Districts/ Blocks/ Gram Panchayats  and ensure that the training centers adhere to the NDLM requirements. This organisation  shall be accountable for monitoring the overall working of the centers that fall under its purview, and  shall be liable for accurate and timely reporting of the aforementioned work ascribed to the centers, “he  elucidates.

For certification of the students,  four certifying agencies are empanelled under the scheme namely NIELIT (formerly known as DOEACC Society), ICT Academy , the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), Haryana Knowledge Corporation Limited (HKCL). These agencies had the crucial job of running the NDLM program to ensure the students receive the best  training and correct certification.

To begin with, they were required to prepare norms and standards for designing, development, delivery and assessment, then certification for various courses in consultation with the Common Service Center (CSC). These agencies would also have the responsibility to assess and certify the student’s abilities after completing each level of  IT literacy program.

After establishing the credentials of the student, the agency would need to  prepare  guidelines and norms for accreditation of training/skilling institutions in terms of training/skilling infrastructure, labs, faculty/trainers, etc. in consultation with the PMU. A periodic monitoring  and assessment process  that will ensure the quality of the program, is also a part of this process.

With such a geographically spread project, technology must also be a challenge. It certainly was, says Rishikesh Patankar, Head of Operations- Education, CSC e-Governance Services India Limited,” in this project we had 30 people  at the PMU in Delhi and 2 people in each state,  total of 1900 training partners, including IT companies, training institutions and centres. The major challenge was the implementation framework, which we did. CSC was the best  choice because  they had 1.7 lakhs centres across India, which had to be increased to 2.5 lakhs. Each Panchayat was to have one center. We had the reach, but the major challenge was to identify beneficiaries from each household. We had an innovative method, where we asked 3 questions  to them, if they knew how to operate a computer, operate a mobile or internet. Based on the answer to this question,  we identified the beneficiary.”

Agrees  Dr. Tyagi,” The primary challenge was the identification of the beneficiaries, Trainers were well qualified to train the beneficiaries. As per Impact Assessment by IITD , almost 89% of the certified candidates are satisfied with the training methods.”

The training for semi literate people would also have its problems. How did technology solve it?

“ In the actual  training  we gave them multimodal content. Since each of the training centres could give standard training to each individual,   we could have a standard level  of trained beneficiaries across India. Also certain technology challenges that we faced while training, needed to be resolved. The targets were huge, and as load increased, and since all trainings and exams were online, we increased the server side and  we also had to increase server load and capacities. These were the major challenges to training,” he says.

The data and networks are in the cloud so that was safe, but the task of co-ordinating so many participants and trainers was surely not an easy one.

For a project of this size, the budgets have been kept accordance with the size.  Says Patankar, ”for the first year, that is NDLM, it was Rs. 89 crores for the budget, for the entire DISHA  scheme, we had Rs. 350 crores budget. There were savings because the whole project was Adhaar linked, so all beneficiaries who had Adhaar have been trained and certified. Wherever there was no Adhaar card, it was a saving.  Also, there were two levels of the training, Level 1 & 2. Initially we thought we’d do level 1 and II, but later we decided to not focus on level 2. In the cost and time saved, we were able  focus on adding targets to the level 1.”

So, the NDLM program target was 10 lakhs and DISHA was 42.5 lakhs. “Since the second phase did not happen, we increased the initial numbers in the states of UP,  Maharashtra, Bihar, MP  and WB by 30%. We have achieved the 10 lakhs number and overall we have 31 lakhs till June 30th.   By Dec 2016, we hope to achieve 52.2 lakhs, the original target. Earlier the scheme was till Dec 2018, but due to huge progress, we completed within 2 years,” adds Patankar.

With digital literacy taking  center stage, and technology supporting in every way, what is the next step?

“Basically, due to the success of this project and the need for digital literacy in this country, the govt is implementing digital India program. The finance  minister in his budget speech has  announced the new digital literacy project for rural areas,  covering 6 crores people in rural areas across India, within the next 3 years.  So this team will be on a Panchayat centric approach and work is going on for implementation. Budget is approx Rs. 2000 crores. Since it’s a bigger target, a bigger team and yet to be identified,” says Patankar.

With  70% of total  population of India living in rural areas, we are speaking of 16.5 crores of 120 crore people in India.  Of this, says  the NSS survey of 2014, 94% do not have access to any computing. This is about 15 crores who are digitally illiterate. So, the next phase will cover  6 crores of these 15 crores, which will mean digital literacy for about 36-40% of rural population. Going this way, by 2020, the PM has a vision to make India digitally literate.

Technology is finally driving the progress of the country!

By Kanika Goswami

Oracle
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