From Chess to the game of Life!
An all boys school in a tiny tribal village in AP uses computers to keep its students aware and ahead!

This Andhra Pradesh village in Mahabub Nagar district is a quaint mix of the ancient and new, of the traditional and modern and old and state-of-the-art technology! Balnagar is a small blip on the map of the state, which despite its proximity to silicon city, Hyderabad (barely 60 kms away), continues to be caught in a time warp. Its a tiny village where most inhabitants have a radio at home but not a TV. Where even graduates havent seen computers, but some special, chosen children have!

NIIT provides computer education to an all boys school in a tiny tribal village in AP to keep its students aware and ahead.

Within this bundle of contradictions is nestled the AP Tribal Welfare Junior College for Boys, a virtual oasis in the vast desert of IT illiteracy. The students attending the school mostly belong to tribal families and villages called Thandas. Offspring of the Lambadas, or the gypsy people, they come from unsettled homes where parents are constantly on the move, trying to eke a living as migrant construction workers or coolies in Hyderabad or Mumbai. The average family income, at around Rs. 60 is barely able ensure a roof over the head and two square meals. Education, especially computer education is not even on the wish list!

Thankfully, the computer dream isnt one that the Lambadas have found beyond reach. The world of IT has been brought to the door step of their children by the Education Department of Government of Andhra Pradesh and delivered by NIIT, 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.

N. Arunakumari, Principal of the school talks about how these young tribal children, in the absence of stability in their personal lives, have built a strong bond with the school and the computers, which are now serving as their constant companions.

The Lambadas, who have migrated from Rajasthan long ago work in the forest land given to them by the government or go to Mumbai as collie workers. When doing so, they leave their children behind in the schools. Clearly, the AP Tribal Welfare Junior College for Boys is more than just a place to learn. Its a refuge, a haven, a sanctuary that protects its students from the uncertainties of their day-to-day existence.

And what of computers? What do they mean to this unlikely community of learners? They are the tools that bring these young boys the promise of a better life and a shinning future! They are more than just machines which can be used for drawing and painting. They are exciting and wondrous devices that give these boys access to horizons they can barely fathom. That allow them to connect to worlds they have never seen and may just see one day. They are learning implements that help these children increase their creativity and also help their instructors improve their teaching practices.

Take the case of Srinivas Kadavath, a Class X student who comes from Koilkonda Mandal, Somla Naik Thanda village, which is 72 kms from the school! A part of the institution from Class VI, he saw the computer for the very first time when he was in Grade VII!

The son of coolie workers who sought to get their life on track by moving to Mumbai, he ranks among the lucky few who can differentiate between a television set and a computer. Today he works on popular word processing, presentation and spreadhseet packages with ease and plans to improve his IT skills to get ahead in life.

N. Raju of Class X has even higher aspirations. The son of a Lambada mason, he is the first literate person in his family! His ambition to be a computer software engineer is based on the conviction that there is no life without computers! His father too believes he will be able to bag a good job with computer knowledge by his side.
Today, Raju can effortlessly create Power Point presentations on the workings of the Internet. He can tell you the finer differences between WANs, MANs and LANs and comment on the intricacies of the World Wide Web! The computer allows me to know what is happening around the world, while sitting in a room. I can use it to browse web sites of the Eenadu, Vaartha and Andhra Jyothi. I am also able to check out sites related to the subjects I study at school, in order to understand them better, Raju informs.

Incidentally, Rajus teacher is using his Internet presentation to acquaint Class X students with the benefits of the network of networks! Could a poor tribal student have ever hoped to become a Netizen, a creature of the digital realm?

For some students, the computer has become more than just a teacher or friend. It has become a one-way ticket to a new life, a chance to make up for deep losses, pull out of the squalor and actually do something for society. R. Seva of Class IX wants to achieve IT literacy so that he can use it to make accurate medical diagnosis when he become a doctor.

The son of a cloth merchant, he lost his mother to cancer and lack of proper healthcare in the village. My mother died because her cancer wasnt diagnosed properly. I want to become a doctor and use computers to provide my village with proper medical attention. Computer learning will also help me get a good job. In fact, when I have money, I will come back to my village and give all the Government schools a computer so that children can benefit!

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.

From Chess to the game of life--computers are teaching the young boys from a non-descript tribal village in AP everything they need to know about surviving and staying ahead.