Daring to dream with computers
Girl students in Andhra Pradesh take up the battle against economic hardship with the weapon of IT literacy!

This is the story about a small, remote hamlet in the Andhra Pradesh, the state thats come to be known for its strong IT focus and its commitment to bringing the benefits of technology to common citizens.

Tucked away in District Kurnool is the Sanghika Sankshema Gurukula Pathshala, an AP Social Welfare Residential School, B Camp, whose 500-odd girl students have known more economic hardship than a real childhood. Born to farming families with an average annual income not exceeding Rs. 12,000, these young learners, until recently, had never been told that education was a priority. After all, when financial challenges loom large over a household, and bread and butter issues take precedence, where does schooling, much less computer training fit in?

All this of course existed in the past. This was the opinion that held sway until computers and special IT education conceived by the Education department, Government of Andhra Pradesh and delivered by NIIT, came their way and completely changed their lives!

The world of IT has been brought to the door step of these children by the IT education leader thats spreading the light of computer knowledge across the length and breadth of the state of Andhra Pradesh, besides other regions in India.In AP, NIIT is providing computer learning in 663 Government schools since 2002, equipping these institutions with cutting-edge infrastructure including the Internet, relevant software and specialized training. NIIT is working actively to make computers an intrinsic part of the lives of socially and economically challenged tribal children who may never have had a chance to integrate with the emerging 21st century environment
Today, in district Kurnool, talk centers around how computer science, coupled with a Class X certificate will help girl students get better jobs. While some children believe computer learning will give them wings and a break from farming life, others feel it will enable them to take care of their families. Yet others say their lives are inextricably linked to the wonder machinesno computers, no school!

The education providers are also convinced that computers are crucial and bringing about a transformation in the lives of students.

Having tasted the fruits of IT learning, the Principal of the Sanghika Sankshema Gurukula Pathshala, Mrs. K.V. Swarnakumari, is upbeat about computers and the part they are playing in shaping the future of the school children. In fact, not satisfied with what the School currently has, she wants more. What she would ideally like to see is the introduction of computer science as a compulsory subject, the introduction of IT in intermediate classes and the spread of such learning across a larger number of schools.

Says Mrs. Swarnakumari, of the computer revolution washing over her institution: the first thing is the opportunity which computers have provided to the down trodden. These girls come from such economically backward classes that they cant afford computer education. Two, It has improved the confidence levels of these students tremendously. Children here have started using Internet quite efficiently to collect information, especially on their subjects. Even teachers have started using computers and we see considerable improvement in their teaching skills.

Mrs. Swarnakumaris school has been identified as a model institution to compete nationally for the National award for integrating computers in school.
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.

As compared to the past, when parents were hesitant to send their young girls to school and found greater use of them as farm hands, today, the feeling is that IT training will open new windows of opportunity for them in the job market. School is now in, as is computer literacy for their daughters, Mrs. Swarnakumari adds.

The young girls too are not complaining. B. Suguna of Class VIII, a topper aggregating 80 percent in quarterly exams, already senses that computers will be a lifelong passion for her. Her humble backgroundher father Iyanna is a lorry driver and mother, Venkatalakshmi, a daily wage labourerhasnt stopped her from dreaming big or placing her chips on a tool that will give her a leg up in life.

B. Suguna has been quick to gain proficiency in popular word processing, paint and spreadsheet packages and even pass on this knowledge to her elder brother in Class IX, who is not lucky enough to have computers in his school. For Suguna, the exposure to computers has been nothing short of a life-linea survival kit that has helped her rise above her station and join the ranks of privileged private school students who have easy access to the world of technology.

Today, Suguna is daring to think beyond the drudgery of her daily existence and setting ambitious goals for herself. Her plans are to pursue computer science after class X and build a career in computers. Her parents join her in believing that computers are the perfect escape route from a life bogged down by toil and struggle.

Another quiet visionary is P. Divya Keerthi who is imagining a more complete, more fulfilling life with computer learning by her side. Not only is she hoping to make a life for herself using the power of computer literacy, she is also expecting to alleviate the economic burden her family is facing, especially after the loss of her father Mohan.

I want to study computers so that I can take care of my mother, says Divya Keerthi. Her hope? To supplement the currently meagre income of Rs. 25 that her mother brings home at the end of the day and provide her younger sister, studying in Class I, with a better tomorrow.

Divya Keerthi, who began learning computers three years ago with NIIT, uses the machine for an hour every day. The computer, she says, has improved her proficiency in English and helped her learn more in Maths and Science through the Internet.

Possibly the most heart-warming tale is that of Revathy, a Class VI student who lost both her parents, a few years ago. Under the charge of her mothers sister, this petite, curly-haired, 10-year-old is fighting fate with a sparkle in her eye and a dream which says that one day she will become a science teacher.

According to Revathy, school would not be school without computers, and were they taken away, she would lose the zest for learning too! As of now, she is content dabbling in drawing software and weaving her thoughts in a word processor.

The computer has indeed painted her world in bright colours and given her cause to cheer every new day!