Away from such flourishing technology centers as Bangalore and Delhi, much of India suffers from widespread digital illiteracy. Almost three-fourths of the nation’s population live in rural villages where some 30 percent of the inhabitants are impoverished. Moreover, the ability to read and write is less than 60 percent – and considerably lower among females.
Children in these communities have few books and other educational aids to help them master the school curriculum, and access to computers is very limited.
But since 2013, grants from EPICS in IEEE have helped a team of IEEE volunteers and the IEEE STEM (iSTEM) Club at New Jersey’s Bridgewater-Raritan High School start changing children’s lives in Paushi, a rural village several hours from Kolkata.
Their non-profit partner is Kreeya, a New Jersey-based organization that promotes literacy in Indian villages to help reduce poverty (The word Kreeya is Hindi for “good works”). Together, their goal is to help Paushi students prepare for India’s employment market by providing the tools to teach them both digital literacy and English.
The digital literacy program for Paushi began in 2013, when IEEE volunteers from both the Princeton/Central Jersey Section (PCJS) and Kolkata, along with the iSTEM club members, used a US$1,500 EPICS in IEEE grant to establish a functional library. A computer with basic software, a printer, and Internet access was installed by an iSTEM club member during summer vacation, after which a Kolkata-based teacher and volunteer began providing basic computer training to 40 children. In 2014, with a US$2,000 grant, another computer and peripherals were installed, as well as desks to accommodate classes that had doubled to 80.
In 2015, an EPICS in IEEE grant of $US3,000 enabled the high school students, guided by their advisor and PCJS volunteers, to plan and design a new cyber classroom, as well as select additional equipment that will teach Internet skills, provide basic English instruction, and – when the new building is completed in late 2015 – enhance opportunities for distance learning. Kolkata-based Polaris Networks is donating four desktop computers, the first of what everyone hopes will be additional industry support to make the project sustainable.
The iSTEM Club members have gained insight into the digital divide that affects so much of the world, but one fact is already clear: The students’ newly acquired engineering and project management skills are helping to narrow the gap and improve other students’ futures.