Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) is going back to school, literally. In partnership with global IT consultancy giant Capgemini, DEF has taken up a project called “Raising standards of education through digital intervention” under which it will adopt government schools within a 50 km radius of 10 cities in India – New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Salem, and Trichy – to provide on-ground IT support to students and teachers. Under the project, the selected schools will be those which primarily have students coming from the economically weaker sections of society.
In the first phase, the project will focus on 10 schools in and around Noida. “The project will be inaugurated on 5th February, 2016,” DEF deputy director Syed Kazi informed Team DEF. “We have already obtained permission of the district administration and the selection of schools is going on to carry out the baseline survey,” he said. Training of people recruited as trainers has also been completed.
The project envisages setting up DEF’s time-tested model of Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) at each of the 10 schools. The objective will be to upgrade each school in an integrated way by setting up a computer lab, providing broadband Internet connectivity using wireless technology along with improvements in the school library, playing grounds, sanitation, health and hygiene facilities. Teachers will be trained to use digital tools to adopt e-learning and digital teaching methods while parents too will benefit from digital services to be provided by the CIRCs.
On January 20, DEF also launched the English and Digital for Girl’s Education (EDGE) programme in collaboration with the British Council. Conceived by the British Council and already implemented in Nepal and Bangladesh, the EDGE programme adopts a peer-learning format using interactive tools such as flashcards, DVD and games to help girls improve their English language skills and also learn how to work with computers. The aim is to empower adolescent girls (in the age group 13 to 17) through greater employment and livelihood opportunities and contribute to prevention of early and forced marriage.
The programme was launched across 5 CIRCs – Wazirabad and Kapashera in Delhi and Mungaska, Bahadurpur and Chandauli in Alwar district of Rajasthan.
Earlier, since June 2014, DEF has been successfully running a project called Integrated Approach to Technology in Education (ITE) in the North East. So far, six CIRCs have been set up – three each in Nagaon district of Assam and West Garo Hills district in Meghalaya benefiting 725 students and 450 community members to learn digital skills and access the Internet through wireless technology.
With the school adoption project, it will be the second time DEF will be going back to schools in a big way. Earlier, in 2007, DEF in partnership with Media Lab Asia of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Government of India, had launched Gyanpedia as an online repository of digital content generated by teachers and students of rural schools from all over the country. The project enabled more than 500 government rural schools across 7 states of India to go online with their students and teachers contributing e-learning content to the Gyanpedia portal.
The new school adoption project will implement a more comprehensive and sustainable approach. Each school will not only be converted into a WiFi hotspot to enable all classrooms to adopt digital tools for pedagogy, there will also be a separate computer lab for training of students and teachers in digital literacy as well as to provide access to all kinds of online education related services and information such as scholarships, distance education courses, online filing of admission forms for higher studies or admission tests, online career resources and so on. The school library will also be upgraded to adopt modern digital best practices while all other school facilities such as play grounds, sanitation, health and hygiene and edutainment facilities will also be improved. Most importantly, the CIRCs in the school premises will seek to attain sustainability so that they can continue to function beyond the project horizon.
Meanwhile, the EDGE prorgramme which is currently being implemented in five CIRCs will soon be scaled up to cover more CIRCs around the country. DEF now has more than 120 CIRCs spread across 19 states in India and more are coming up even as we write.
The ITE programme in the North East is also being expanded. So far, while two wireless microwave towers have been set up in the two districts of Assam and Meghalaya, a third tower is coming up that will enable more centres to access broadband services and the Internet and offer digital literacy classes to more students and digital services to more communities.