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    Empowering Rural and Tribal Communities through Education

    Bringing happiness to tribal and rural communities through education

    India is a country of villages having 1.28 billion of the total population. It is the second most populous country in the world. About 72.2% of the population lives in some 638,000 villages and the rest 27.8% in about 5,480 towns and urban agglomerations. India is a vast and most diversified country, geographically and culturally, facing several challenges, education being one of the most important of those. The challenge of education is most critical when it comes to rural & tribal areas. There have been several governmental and non-governmental efforts to educate the illiterate mass especially the vulnerable population of the society living in far flung areas. Ekal-a non-governmental organization began its journey 27 years back with the concept of “One Teacher School” in an asset free environment (where education can happen under a tree, in a hut, etc.). Ekal has been successfully imparting education to young children in an informal mode to ensure functional literacy in reading, writing & basic arithmetic blend with ethics & value education. Ekal also recently started skill based training to make the youth self-reliant with rural entrepreneurial skills so as to earn livelihood in the vicinity of their villages and avoid urban migration. Moreover, Ekal is at pace with time to bring innovations in teaching and learning by use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) tools better known as Digital Ekal. Present case study focuses on one such effort in defining education not merely as reading-writing but imbibing sanskaras, values, innovations, livelihood, etc. carried out by EKAL known as Ekal Abhiyan. (for more detail, refer www.ekal.org) 

    Literacy in Rural and Tribal India: A Challenge

    India is predominantly populated by rural communities (with more than 70% of the total population of India). A large portion of these rural communities is tribal (comprising of around 8.2%). There are around 16.2% Scheduled Caste of the total population. Apart from this, there are a significant number of OBCs and the other population inhabiting remote areas that have escaped the fruits of change and development that have taken India forward.

    According to a news item which appeared in the national newspaper, The Hindu (dated July 04, 2015),  “The Socio-Economic and Caste Census 2011 (SECC) has found that 36 percent of the 884 million people in rural India are illiterate. This is higher than the 32 percent recorded by the Census of India 2011. Of the 64 percent literate rural Indians, more than a fifth have not even completed primary school. The SECC also found that only 5.4 percent of rural India has completed high school with a mere 3.4 percent having graduated from college”.

    The above-mentioned figures clearly indicate the significantly low status of literacy among the rural population especially within the age-group of primary school-going children.

    Government Efforts to promote Primary Education

    Government of India (GOI) has recognized the problem of illiteracy in general and especially at the Elementary or Primary School level among children aged 6 to 14 years. To address the issue at the grassroots level GOI had District Education Revitalization Programme (DERP) in 1994 with an aim to universalize primary education in India by reforming and vitalizing the existing primary education system. 80% of all recognized schools at the elementary stage are government-run or supported, making it the largest provider of education in the country. The education is provided free at the Primary School level for children from 6 to 14 years of age or up to class VIII under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012, states that 96.5% of all rural children between the ages of 6-14 were enrolled in school.

    To promote the Primary School education GoI has banned child labour, significant improvement in staffing and enrolment of girls has also been made as a part of RTE scheme. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which is one of the largest education initiatives in the world has also been launched.

    Even after so many efforts done by GOI, the desired result has not been achieved. Presently, the school drop-out rate is very high. As quoted from The Telegraph dated February 21, 2005 ‘Only 47 of the 100 children enrolled in Class I reach Class VIII, putting the dropout rate in primary and elementary schools at 52.79%’.

    There are various socioeconomic, cultural and other issues responsible for this alarmingly high dropout rate.

     EKAL Movement – EKAL Abhiyan as CSR Activity

    The pioneer leaders of EKAL movement decided to address and resolve the problem of basic primary education to children of remotely located villages to enable them to access their right to education. This was done under the help of CSR where funds were collected as donations or contributions by some leading Corporate Houses in India and NRIs living abroad.

    The concept of EKAL movement also addressed the problem of empowerment that is even if some students do not move further for whatever reasons, the basic education that is Reading, Writing and basic Arithmetic, along with the education of values and general awareness would equip them suitably to live a better life. The needs for arranging formal education were manifold like infrastructure and trained teachers which were not easy to manage, the former for financial constraints and latter for availability of trained teachers from the same areas. Arranging teachers from outside was not a feasible option because neither the teachers were well versed with the local language and dialect or were capable of communication with children, nor were facilities available for their stay in these areas or for commuting. This led to evolution of a unique model of one teacher school and hence the name EKAL.

    Digital Skills for Employability

    Setting up of Computer Training Labs across Gramothan Resource Centres:

    Presently Ekal has 15 GRCs with 6 more under development across India and a majority of GRCs now have IT labs to provide computer training to equip tribal & rural youth with Digital Skills. In line with the vision of Ekal Digital Mission, all GRCs are now connected with high-speed internet. This is a step forward to take Digital Skills in the remotest areas, making local rural youth learn IT and online platforms so that they can leverage the internet to get market linkages for agri produce and other craft products. The centres are offering structured training which leads to certification and employable skills among youth. Apart from GRC, Ekal Training Centres are also established in remote areas with Computer Labs. Presently seventeen such centres are being set up and three are in the process of development which will take the count to twenty by the year-end. This IT infrastructure in GRCs and Ekal Training Centres will help to achieve the objectives of connectivity and direct market linkages which will ultimately provide the economic connectivity with better livelihood opportunities.

    Ekal-on-Wheels

    Ekal on Wheels (EOW) is another example of Ekal bottom up approach, when we realized that the youth, especially girls from remote tribal and rural villages can not travel too far for learning IT skill; this idea of making a computer lab in a van to have a movable IT lab was evolved. The EOW has 15 laptops with one big screen connected with laptop for the trainer to show demos to the candidates. Ekal on Wheels move from village to village and spends 2 hrs in a particular village with a monthly calendar in place so that youth from that village complete their training leading to certification. This is making a phenomenal impact to make youth digitally literate in the remotest villages of the tribal and rural belt. Through IT training, its also imparting employable skills among youth so that they can get employment in nearby towns or district cities as there is a lot of demand for multi-skilled IT literate people in these urban and semi-urban centres. Presently Ekal has a fleet of 27 operational Ekal on Wheels moving in tribal areas and also in difficult hilly terrains to reach out to the remotest villages so that the tribal and rural youth get the computer lab at their door-steps. This is a mission on the move and 10 more EOWs are under development which will be rolled out by this year end which will make the number of EOWs to 37. This initiative is an example of Ekal commitment to Digital Mission and overcoming the barrier of connectivity with last mile connectivity.

    Ekal E-Shiksha

    Ekal E-Shisha project was started to achieve the core objective envisioned in the policy and vision document adopted by Ekal Abhiyan in 2015 as Ekal Vision 2025 wherein Ekal resolved to initiate “Ekal Digital MIssion”. The idea was to use technology as enabler in achieving different objectives of Ekal Abhiyan. As part of the same, ICT was thought as one of the tool to achieve two major objectives:

    • Acharayas (Ekal Teachers) as Change Leaders: To provide a direct connect with National Trainers to Ekal teachers through pre-recorded videos of training sessions to ensure uniformity in the training and development of teachers. It also envisioned to provide them different e-content to equip them with the knowledge to spread awareness among the community as per Ekal five-fold education. This is becoming a tool of continuous learning for teachers that will ultimately help in transforming them to Social Change Leaders in their village.
    • Technology as enabler to promote Ekal Pedagogy: To use ICT in furtherance of Ekal mode of learning based on informal education driven by the philosophy of “learning by doing” which is also known as “Activity Based Learning”. The model is developed as a result of grassroot working of Ekal full-timers who have sacrificed their lives in working with tribal & rural children, learning their behavioural patterns and developing the model in the remotest parts of India. The ICT was thought of supporting the tested model of Ekal Learning through different types of e-content and social gaming.

    Presently Ekal e-shiksha has reached to 1170 number of Ekal Vidyalayas where children are learning through TABs apart from the on-going activity-based learning. Moreover, we are ready to execute in another 1800 Vidyalayas by this year-end which will take this reach to 2970 Vidyalayas.   This has resulted into enhanced interest of children and better learning outcome. For Ekal this is a long-distance to travel to reach out to all Vidyalayas but we are committed to make this happen under Ekal Digital Mission.

    Digital Ekal to support Digital India Mission

    Ekal Digital Mission:

    Ekal is a movement to reach out to the people who are at the bottom of pyramid and not privileged to have access to quality education, health care, sustainable livelihood and equal opportunities to grow. When the movement started inspired by Swami Vivekananda vision when he said “If a child can not come to school, school must reach to her” and with this philosophy, Ekal Model of informal and activity based learning was conceived in late eighties. Now after more than three decades, the challenges of access remain in terms of quality education, continuous learning, health care and livelihood opportunities. Ekal is a story which has always evolved with the community and solutions have always emerged from the bottom of the pyramid.

    To accelerate its continuous efforts to make bridges for providing better connectivity to rural & tribal communities, Ekal understood the need and scope of using Information Technology (IT) & Internet to overcome barrier of physical connectivity to achieve many developmental goals. The Ekal Digital Mission is nothing but a step forward of the same philosophy with which this journey started of reaching out to the remotest villages and link communities with better opportunities. This is also step forward in realizing the dream of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam when he envisioned the idea of PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) where he laid down the importance of four types of connectivity namely Physical Connectivity, Knowledge Connectivity, Electronic Connectivity & Economic Connectivity. Ekal has been working tirelessly to improve connectivity on all aspects except physical which is the mandate of respective governments. Ekal Digital Mission is a step forward wherein we will be accelerating the process of connectivity in terms of knowledge, Electronic and Economic.

    Objectives of Ekal Digital Mission:

    1. Establishment of Information Network to existing initiatives in education, Gramothan Resource Centre, Health, and livelihood
    2. Real time information across network that means an Ekal Information Highway (EIH) connecting more than 100 thousand villages.  
    3. Using ICT as enabler to gradually transform the Ekal Pedagogy and Methodology into e-content in the form of e-books, education videos and social games.
    4. Using IT & Internet to provide Digital Skills to rural & tribal youth to make them employable and digitally literate.
    5. Ensuring that all full-time volunteers and teachers are digitally literate.
    6. Engagement of local communities for awareness and imparting basic digital skills which can be used to improve their livelihood opportunities like selling products and produce through online platforms and get direct market linkages.
    7. Using social media as a tool to reach out and make the rural and tribal communities and interact with global audience.
    8. Using IT & Internet, providing better health care in the remotest areas.
    9. To spread awareness and train local communities for Financial Micromanagement using technology.
    10. To connect IT service centres with local communities and also empower local youth to open such IT community centres (Ekal Seva Kendra) as per the need.

    Ekal has been working on the above mentioned objectives since 2015 and a substantial progress has been achieved so far. Some of the path breaking initiative Ekal has taken and some of them are:

    • Setting up of Computer Training Labs across Gramothan Resource Centres
    • Ekal-on-Wheel
    • Ekal e-Shiksha