START: A Digital Learning Toolkit

START is a digital literacy curriculum and toolkit, which has been developed by Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) after years of experience in imparting functional digital literacy through hands-on training and workshops in rural and tribal communities. It has been designed exclusively for first-generation technology users to promote digital inclusion and fight information poverty.

The toolkit has been designed primarily for first-generation technology users who may or may not be traditionally literate. Keeping in mind the vast majority of Indian population that is largely dependent on oral communication, the toolkit takes a more hands-on practical approach to learning, with a range of games and group activities to help the users understand fundamentals of the digital world and functionality of key tools.

"Great, you've assembled a computer. But it won't work because there are no wires!"

New Learners

Last month, I spent two weeks with 30 youngsters, well they were aged between 19 and 39, in Jaipur. They were tribal youth who had come from six different states — Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal—for experiential learning under a Certificate Programme in Rural Livelihood led by the Bharat Rural Livelihood Foundation (BRLF). DEF is the digital literacy partner in this course, responsible for a two-week module.

These two weeks were a learning experience, not just for the digital literacy trainees but also for the trainers. I truly believe that when you meet someone and spend time interacting with them, there is always something you can learn from each other. Having spent some several evening with them over the course of the two weeks I learnt so much about their adivasi culture, their folk songs, their rights and the infringement of their rights by the government in the name of development or naxalism. In fact, I had the opportunity to be with them on the the Vishwa Adivasi Diwas (International Ingenious Day) on August 9.

Did you know that several adivasi groups have a tradition of laying a stone in the memory of the dead or those who have walked the Earth and contributed to lives on Planet Earth? And so they have laid stones in the memory of the dinosaurs too! Incredible, isn’t it? Have we, the urban literate community, ever felt the need to remember the dinosaurs, let alone thank them?

The adivasis are often considered the illiterate and underdeveloped populations. They might not be literate in the modern traditional sense, they might not even believe in “development” in the manner globalisation has forced us to believe, but they probably hold more knowledge than what Wikipedia accommodates at the moment. Their songs alone talk about so much from education, culture and community to livelihood, governance and even world affairs.

So while I was learning about their culture from them, they were learning about computers from me. And we picked different approaches for different topics, but most of them relied on an hands-on activity-based approach to learning.

Learners drew parts of a computer and then assembled them as part of a group activity.

And it was in interesting journey for both the groups. Even though DEF has designed and developed in-house a digital learning toolkit for those who are largely part of the oral society, you cannot deny that a certain level of English reading ability is required to use the computers. In fact, even the mobile phones come installed in English language and to change the default language to Hindi from English, you need to be able to know basic English to navigate through the settings. And this is a challenge when one is typing in Hindi, too. The keyboards are primarily designed for the Latin script, people cannot use the traditional Hindi keyboard input on a Latin script device without proficient experience in Hindi typing. Even if one wants to use the "easier" Google Input Tool for Hindi typing, one needs to know the Latin spelling of the Hindi word. For example, to type "तुम्हारा नाम क्या है" using Google Input Tools or similar tools, one needs to know that तुम्हारा would be displayed on screen if the alphabets T-U-M-H-A-R-A. are typed. This is a challenge.

Created By
Udita Chaturvedi


Udita Chaturvedi and Deepak Rajput

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