Computer jobs are better than rolling beedis!
A community of girl children in AP gains confidence and computer knowledge through NIIT

When was the last time your child had to travel a considerable distance, in a remote and inhospitable terrain, to get to school? Better still, when was the last time she did it to attend a special class on computers?

If you are still searching for a response, take time out to think about this unheard of Zilla Parishad Girls High School in an inaccessible village called Atmakur in District Mahbubnagar of Andhra Pradesh.

Hidden from national view, this quiet rural environment houses around 15,000 people who are mostly farm labours, flower vendors and dhobis (washermen) with a daily income ranging from Rs. 25-30.

The village would have remained confined to the depths of obscurity, had it not been for one redeeming feature, one distinguishing markits special school for girls with its special computer laboratory!

When IT learning major NIIT entered this sleepy village in AP in 2002, it wasnt really sure whether the lure of computer literacy would prove to be a draw for the girl children of the community. The company used its extensive experience in the field of IT education to bring state-of-the-art computer training to the forgotten girl students of Atmakur.

Today, the state of Andhra Pradesh has set an example for the rest of the country in taking the movement of computer literacy beyond the affluent metros into the deep interiors of India. This is evident from a recent remark made by the Delhi CM, Mrs. Sheila Dixit while reviewing the computer education program in Delhi schools. She gave examples of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, where the computer education program is functioning smoothly. On lines of these states, she asked the education department to extend computer aided learning program in all the schools of her state.

However, according to L. Balasubramanian, Head of NIIT K-12, this would not have been possible without the relentless support of the Government of Andhra Pradesh. NIIT, which is providing computer learning in 663 Government schools in AP, has equipped the all girls school in Atmakur with cutting-edge infrastructure including the Internet, relevant software and specialized courseware. In this way, NIIT worked to make computers an intrinsic part of the lives of socially and economically challenged children of the Zilla Parishad High School who may never have had a chance to integrate with the emerging 21st century environment.

NIIT now makes available computer learning to almost 484 young girls from the 600 student strong school. The students, from classes VI to X are using computers to learn more about what is being taught in the classrooms in a variety of subjects.

Fathima, a Class IX student, for instance, is using computers to learn science. A dweller of Athmakur, Fathima lives in a humble home with her widowed mother and three siblings, of whom at least two havent seen the sight of a school! In a household that derives its income from rolling beedis, she is the only bright spark with the hope of an even brighter future. I am the first one in my family to learn computers and I hope this will help me become a teacher when I grow up, she says.

Fathima adds with pride that she has created a computer presentation on the functioning of the human excretory system, which is being used by her science teacher as a reference point for the class.

Nasreen Kathuanother Class IX student of Athmakur also shares Fathimas dream of becoming a teacher and using her computer knowledge to achieve her ambition.

The daughter of a flower vendor, whose wife rolls beedis, she is the youngest of four children. Though her sisters have studied till Class X, they were compelled by circumstances to work and supplement the family income. As far as Nasreen is concerned, her educational journey will not stop at Class X. The young girl is determined to continue on her chosen path and add computer skills to her list of credentials. I can even teach computers in a smaller school and with that earning, I can study more, she comments hopefully.

Manju Bargavi of Class IV has to travel almost 10 kms from a village called Mulammala, to reach her school in Atmakur. She is willing to make the effort because the Zilla Parishad Girls High School is the only one teaching computers. Her brother, who attends school in Mulammala and isnt lucky enough to be exposed to computers, receives lessons from Manju on her favourite subject!

The acting principal of the Zilla Parishad Girls High School, Mrs. Subasini talks about how computer training from NIIT has truly altered the lives of the young girls and transformed the school itself. Its been over three years since NIIT installed the computers in our school and began the training. Since then, the school strength has considerably increased. In fact, it has doubled from 250/260 to 550 as on date, she says.

According to Mrs. Subasini, the school dropout rate has also fallen significantly. The percentage of dropouts when computers werent around was about 30 percent. Today, it stands at around 10-15 percent. Attributing the remarkable improvement in the level of learning among students to the fact that teachers are beginning to use computers for instruction, she adds such teaching will continue and be extended to all subjects.

Girl students are greatly interested in learning now. We are seeing a major increase in their interest levels. The capacity to learn has also changed, especially when related to subjects such as Mathematics and the Physical Sciences. Since it is difficult to explain these subjects on paper, the computer helps to do a much better job, Mrs. Subasini states.

Besides imparting IT assisted education, the computers are also being used by the Zilla Parishad Girls High School to undertake official work including the maintenance of the institutional records.

Providing another insight on the role computer education is playing in Atmakur, A Rajeshwar Rao, Additional Project co-coordinator, DPEP/SSA, Mahabubnagar. says that the rural students have gained a lot of confidence thanks to their newly acquired computer knowledge. By learning computers, these students will no longer have to depend on government jobs. They will be able to create employment for themselves. They can set up Internet, e-mail or DTP centers on the lines of the e-governance kiosks being launched by the government, he adds.

Clearly, IT education from NIIT is making a difference to the lives of the girl children in Atmakur and other locations in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This IT literacy movement, a spark today, is expected to grow into a major flame tomorrow.