Nivalkar Gajanan not only transformed his life by learning how to use a PC, but has also shared his digital knowledge to improve the livelihood of 160 farmers, women and children living in a remote Telangana hamlet.
A new dawn is breaking over the tiny, sleepy village of Akoli. The village is, at long last, becoming a part of India’s development story, having been recognized as a ‘100% Digitally Literate Village.’ And the man who has played a pivotal role in this digital transformation is 34 year-old Nivalkar Gajanan.
Through a vigorous 25-day computer literacy programme, the change that Gajanan has brought in Akoli, is evident in the lives of the local citizens. Ganitha, previously a farm labourer, is looking forward to her new career as a computer instructor. Dada Rao, who had only studied up to Class 12, has found employment beyond the narrow confines of the village. Rajkumar and Geeta, once economically vulnerable and unemployed, are now working as digital evangelists, spreading the message of computer literacy in villages across Telangana.
THE SEEDS OF AN IDEA TAKE ROOT
Nivalkar Gajanan comes from Gimma village of Adilabad district in Telangana, and was studying for his diploma in Industrial Training when he first learnt how to operate a PC. From paying utility bills to maintaining records, and from learning about government schemes to learning about the world, the many uses of a computer and the potential it represented left him awe-struck.
In 2010, determined to introduce people in his hometown to the convenience and excitement of using a PC, Gajanan set up a Common Services Centre (CSC). The centre, like others across the country, aims to make e-governance services accessible to the common folk in non-urban India. For a small fee, village level entrepreneurs, who run the centre, help digitally illiterate villagers use the internet to apply for government schemes and avail different government benefits.
In 2015, the Government of India announced the Digital India programme, and launched the National Digital Literacy Mission to ensure that every household in the country has at least one digitally literate individual. The initiative inspired Gajanan to start training government health and education workers on how to use the PC.
“After the training they received, I found they were using PCs in their day-to-day life. From compiling data about the children they worked with, to tracking their academic progress, the women were putting into practice all that they had learnt. Today, every single health and education worker in the village block is digitally literate,” he said, with justified pride.
It was the first time Gajanan had trained someone in using a PC, but it was certainly not going to be the last.
“I was extremely happy that they were making such good use of the skills I had imparted. I decided to continue training and to reach out to more people,” Gajanan said.
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It was when he was training students in the local government school that he struck upon the idea of training an entire village.
“I realised that learning how to operate a PC is easy in the city. All one has to do is enrol in any of the numerous computer institutes and attend the classes. For villagers however, learning how to operate a computer often remains a distant dream. For one, the cost is extremely prohibitive. Also, most villagers come from agricultural families and cannot afford to leave their farms unattended. But since these are the people who will benefit most from learning how to use a PC, I decided to bring the classes to them,” Gajanan explained.
BRINGING IN THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION, ONE VILLAGE AT A TIME
Gajanan then presented his idea to P Keshav, sarpanch of Akoli, who readily agreed, and even extended unconditional support to Gajanan.
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A month later, in January 2016, Gajanan started enrolling one member from each of the 160 households in the village. In a small room in the gram panchayat, he set up four of his own PCs. He even invested in two Wi-Fi hotspots and an LED screen.
Next, he divided the villagers into different batches: housewives, children and farm labourers were taught in the morning, from 7am to 12 noon. Farmers were taught in the late evening.
“Because of the nature of their work, most farmers could not attend classes in the morning. So I conducted classes for them from 9 pm to midnight, often spending the night in the gram panchayat when it was too late to travel the 7 km to get home,” he said.
Gajanan started the training by teaching the villagers how to use Microsoft Paint: “It helps them get comfortable with using the mouse,” he explained.
“I wanted to make things fun and lively for them. So, after the first five days, I announced a competition and promised prizes to those who proved they could use Paint comfortably. The prizes were items like school bags for children, LED bulbs for women – small things that I was sure they would use,” said Gajanan.
Gajanan repeated the pattern throughout the course, interspersing classes with fun competitions to assess the progress of the villagers and to keep them engaged.
At the end of the course, many villagers were adept at using the PC, a fact that was reflected in the results of their official assessment by the National Digital Literacy Mission, and Akoli was declared Telangana’s third 100% digitally literate village.
OPENING DOORS TO A NEW WORLD
While Gajanan bore the cost of training the villagers himself, he was awarded Rs. 65,000 by the Government of India when the villagers successfully completed their assessment.
Gajanan reinvested this money in the village, setting up a permanent computer centre with two PCs and an internet facility.
“I want to give the villagers the opportunity to put into practice all that they have learned. I also want them to have access to technology and the power of the internet at their fingertips…always!” he said.
Today, children from the village use the PC at the centre to access free tutorials online, while farmers use them to get tips and suggestions about farming. Computer knowledge has also translated into better employment opportunities for many; some of the trainees have been hired by Gajanan himself to spread digital literacy to other villages in rural Telangana.
Gajanan is currently conducting training in two more villages and hopes that they attain the status of being 100% digitally literate in the near future.
The government hopes digital literacy in non-urban India will give a big fillip to the social and economic development of the country. In order to realize that vision, more digital leaders like Gajanan are needed to spearhead change and fuel the fulfilment of the dream.