Digital Literacy Goes “Mobile” Amid COVID-19 Pandemic
Technological marvels—computers, the internet, and social media—have connected the world and created possibilities and opportunities scarcely imaginable a few decades ago. But this high-tech landscape can be challenging, even for those in the most well-connected and well-funded communities. How do those on the other side of the digital divide—in poor and isolated areas—acquire the necessary tech skills and knowledge?
Understanding this potential, Sehgal Foundation created a digital literacy training and life-skills education program in 2006 for children in government schools, which has steadily expanded with support of our philanthropic partners. Digital literacy training in smart classrooms is a key component of Sehgal Foundation’s Transform Lives one school at a time program, which has made a positive difference and created a brighter future for thousands of rural schoolchildren, especially girls, and continues to expand to more and more villages.
Teaching digital literacy in a poor, rural setting is a complex process. Working closely with the community, the foundation teams draw on years of experience to overcome obstacles involving connectivity, infrastructure deficiencies, and cultural limitations to put together a practical, robust curriculum taught by hand-picked, tech-savvy local residents.
Students who have completed the course have used their newfound skills to access government services, assist in village projects, seek out opportunities for themselves, their families, and fellow residents, and to simply explore and enjoy the online world that many of us take for granted. Students report being more self-confident and motivated to pursue avenues that had previously been closed to them.
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, nearly everything in these villages, including education, ground to a halt. Despite being sparsely populated, rural areas have faced unique challenges during the pandemic because of poverty and an overall lack of support compared to their urban counterparts. Even charging a mobile phone can be tricky. Acting on the urgency felt by students and instructors of the digital literacy classes, the Sehgal Foundation team devised a way to arrange online classes, made possible by students using an older family member’s smartphones at home or sharing a device while outdoors in small, socially distanced groups. By the end of the spring session, eighty-five students in district Alwar and fifty-three in district Nuh successfully completed the digital literacy training course.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
Many families in the US and around the world are struggling with remote working and schooling, but for Priyanka, a young girl of Nadoti block of district Alwar, attending digital literacy classes was no less than a battle won. Her parents used their meager agricultural earnings to pay for her education and that of her two younger siblings, leaving nothing to spare. Priyanka’s mother, believing education is the key to do well in life, was determined to let Priyanka continue in the program, despite not having a smartphone in the family. When Priyanka heard about online digital classes, she immediately got in touch with neighborhood friends and arranged to attend classes with them, sitting apart with one shared smartphone in the middle. “There were instances when the parents sat beside their children to see what was being taught,” remarked one instructor.
Digital literacy trainers recorded the audio lessons for radio broadcast. Digital audio-modules, called Udaan (flight), were made available to a mass audience through Sehgal Foundation’s community radio Alfaz-e-Mewat in Nuh and to community radio Alwar Ki Awaaz (an initiative of Sunrise University).
Even in the face of the disruption of a global pandemic, the determination shown by the students, parents, instructors, and Sehgal Foundation teams kept the dream of digital literacy alive in these communities. Many more kids like Priyanka will no doubt continue to face hurdles to learning, but thanks to Sehgal Foundation’s philanthropic partners and teams on the ground, and more and more young lives will continue to be transformed and prepared for a better future.