By Kavitha Srinivasa
Computer Shiksha (CS), a Gurugram-based non-profit trust, offers computer literacy programs as a service to schools. By 2022, CS aims to reach out to 1 million students
A few steps in this direction
A group of children sit under a tree and try to imbibe a lesson or two from a bunch of women. It may seem idyllic to some viewers, for others it may be a fleeting sight. But this image lingered on in the minds of senior IT professionals. It gave them the direction that they were looking for.
Having spent three decades in the IT industry, Rakesh Suri from BITS Pilani felt it was time to give back to society. Consciously or otherwise, the time had come for him to revisit the wheel of life. Suri’s idealism was supported by management professionals. Suddenly like a jigsaw puzzle everything fell into place. They felt management and IT skills can be leveraged for scalable learning solutions with a mass reach. With this clarity, they decided to provide computer literacy as a service to those who are already gainfully and successfully engaged with communities similar to a B2B model in business. “Mathematics is an acquired skill, children learn to add and subtract even while doing casual stuff like buying toffees. They learn to add and subtract. We wanted to inculcate this habit into them for survival through sustainable computer learning,
Rakesh Suri established Computer Shiksha (CS) as a non-profit trust in 2012 in Gurugram. To put it in Suri’s words, “Even to reach out to 330 Million kids in India who have no access to IT technology is an uphill task but we plan to leave no one in the World computer illiterate and to achieve this we need all the support and funding we can get from Corporates under their CSR endeavours along-with donations of end-of-life computers from them.”
He along with like-minded individuals set out with a few computers and a projector to teach children in the rural schools surrounding Gurugram. “We embarked on a vision that no one should be left computer illiterate. We began by approaching the government schools and it was quite a task to carry our computers to-and-fro,” recalled Marwaha. Being self-funded, it was limited in approach. Moreover, the vision was a tall order to fulfil. It made sense to scale up the project for a wider reach. With some networking, the team managed to get a cheque of Rs 8 lakh and that set the ball rolling.
CS’ differentiator is that the computer is not being used to supplement physics or chemistry lessons. The idea is that everyone should have the know-how of the basics of computers. Being high on cost, the initial MS Office was replaced by Open Office, an open source software, which is available free of cost.
Regular interactions with NGOs have helped CS to connect with private and NGO run schools in remote and rural locations.
The computer literacy programmes are for students from Nursery to Inter-Colleges. They learn to use the computer and are familiarized about the parts of a computer. They are also exposed to the keyboard and mouse or pad, besides learning to start and shut down the computer. The programme also focuses on other aspects like drawing through Paint, naming and organizing files, text processing and formatting, spreadsheets used as database and calculator, presentation Skills, internet applications for browsing and searching, along with E-mails.
The teacher, in this case, trainer or facilitator helps children by projecting video based Computer Shiksha course-ware on an LCD projector or a large screen TV. “We don’t require a qualified computer teacher. Anyone with X standard pass can be trained to handle computer literacy programmes that are imparted through course videos and bilingual manuals in English and Hindi,” explained Marwaha. Over time, the course content has been translated into six vernaculars. Information is built into the video for the facilitator to run it, with instructions to pause or stop when the student is expected to respond.
The school or NGO selects one trainer, who undergoes eight-day training in Gurugram. This is what a trainer had to say, “We were very sceptical when Computer Shiksha approached us but still came for the training. Then we were certain the computers promised would not come; but we were in for a pleasant surprise ! And now, we have even upgraded our labs since we have more admissions also. Thank you CS.”
On the days computer literacy is provided, the attendance improves compared to the days when it is not the turn of computer course. A student at Bal Shiksha Kendra in Gurugram said “My parents are very happy that I am getting to learn computers but I feel more children should get to learn computers !”
Computer Shiksha doesn’t just provide computers, it’s also an enabler. The approach is holistic, inclusive of video course-ware, training, monitoring, evaluation and certification. After students finish a module, and they have passed the written test, they will be certified by CS. Thereby, a student can earn multiple certificates as per the modules learnt. It is expected that once a full cycle of 10 modules has been completed, NGO/ School would have complete set of manuals, training and maturity to do this course effectively in future.
Being IT professionals, Suri and team knew that computer education is no longer an employ-ability tool. Data entry and mundane jobs are being replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) tools. Still, computer education is just as essential as English, Hindi and Math because without this knowledge one just won’t be able to fit in the society, nor get any job in future. Computer education, like math, need to be inherently known to perform any job. For instance, all Government schemes are available mostly online, which people from under-served communities are just unable to access due to obvious reasons. In that sense, computer education shifts from an employ-ability tool to an essential skill just to survive in the society.
Schools are waitlisted for the rollout of computers. Describing themselves as Professional Beggars, Marwaha said that they receive computers as donations from corporate houses, under their CSR (corporate social responsibility) funding. These nearly end-of-life computers are refurbished and re-distributed to the waitlisted schools. The waiting period can take three months or even 12 months.
Computers are maintained by CS. In case of a serious repair, CS trained representatives are guided through CCTV, Skype, Whatsapp and phone. To that extent, nearly 95% of maintenance issues are resolved.
Corporate donors and partners have enriched the CS journey. MBL Bhargava, Trustee at Letz Dream Foundation feels that Computer Shiksha’s missionary work should be supported by more Corporates under their CSR spends.
Given the CS approach, it’s no surprise that it has won laurels. Computer Shiksha has been certified to be having ‘Desirable Norms prescribed for Good Governance of voluntary organizations” by CAI, Credibility Alliance, a global organization that certifies NGOs.
What’s more the CS outlook has been lapped up by overseas players in this segment. Maxim Nyansa, a Netherlands NGO works with schools in Ghana, Africa. The free CS computer course videos on YouTube caught their attention in August 2018. “Fully convinced the NGO team as well as a representative from Ghana visited CS to understand our model. They decided to adopt the CS model and use CS Computer Course videos and help manuals in English to scale computer education in Ghana. In September 2018, CS trainers travelled to Accra, Ghana to train 23 teachers from 20 schools from interior of Ghana and the complete CS model is being launched in these 20 schools.
A Netherlands-based donor has provided 300 computers for these schools. The teachers in Ghana will be supported from India for the course. This also includes the assessment of students as well as repair of hardware and software. All this is being aided through the CS helpline in India.