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The laptop schools of Mewat

Last updated on: November 28, 2007 12:43 IST

The little girl with a pink shawl wrapped around her tiny head writes on the journalist's note pad: 'Anjum Dhamala.' She writes in Hindi and when asked to write Lata, she pauses for a while not prepared for a dictation.

Then, when encouraged by her teacher, Sunita Gupta, she makes a brave attempt. She writes. She writes her teacher's name too. Su- ni- ta. Anjum, a 10-year-old, has never been to school . Though her village Dhamala in Phirojpur Jhidga block of Mewat district in Haryana has a school. In fact, none of the children -- about 15 of them in the community centre in Dhamala -- have been to school.

All of them have been attending a fast-track course in literacy. And the teacher, a graduate, is armed with a laptop and a CD which does the magic of teaching children how to read and write in Hindi in a month using arresting visuals and stories.

The laptop and CD, with the one-month course, has been provided by Development Alternatives which, under its Tara Akshar programme, is running such one-month courses in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. In each place different NGOs are running the laptop schools.

In Mewat, it is Sehgal Foundation, a corporate foundation, which is taking the course to the villages.

The project, which started in May 2005, claims to have covered 17,000 women in these states so far and the target has been 5,000 women a month.The course is being run in 291 laptop schools in these states; three in Mewat alone.

The fast-track literacy course begins with the laptop provided with every teacher who is supposed to teach three batches of students every day for a month. Each batch has about eight students. While the course on alphabets runs on the computer for 18 days, the remaining days are what is called a reading club.The students come and practice what they learnt. The classes at the laptop schools go on for an hour and a half.

While there are women over the age of 50 in the laptop school at Dhamala, the one in neighbouring Patkhori village, has almost exclusively children who are below 10 years of age.

The concern of Sehgal Foundation, which is diligently running the Tara Akshar Programme in three of its 12 adopted villages in Mewat, is that there is no way the students can retain what they have learnt in one month.

Says Raziya, the programme coordinator from the Foundation: "We had asked Development Alternatives to make it a three-month course because one month is too short a time. The worst part is that the National Open School has no centre in Mewat district and there is no way the students who learn to read and write so fast can be linked to Open school for higher education."

But Tara Akshar is to continue in its present format and the NGO Development Alternatives is encouraged by the large numbers of women and is able to cover in a short period of time with just the help of a miracle CD.

Development Alternatives, which has been funded by British agency DFID to run the laptop schools of TARA Akshar, is looking towards corporates for tie-ups. The cost per person has been Rs 2,500 and the investment so far has been Rs 4.25 crore (Rs 42.5 million).

"We could easily raise the number to 50,000 or 100,000 with a little financial support from government, companies and donors the sky is the limit." says Ashok Khosla, director, Development Alternatives.

All about the mother

The story of the Hindi syllables, at least at Tara Akshar's laptop schools, is all about mother or 'm-aa', who has a little baby who cries lying on its back 'ee' and then goes on its belly and shouts longer 'eeee' and then gets up and says 'uuu' and as he grows up he runs and cries 'ae' and longer 'ayee' and when he is older he says 'oo' and then when no one listens he says 'ou' and so on.

The mother has a husband or pa-ti and she puts a shawl or chu-nni on her head. The aspirated word 'bh' is explained through the story of a bear or bhalu which is shown sitting in the shape of the Hindi letter 'bh.' The aspirated letter 'kh' is taught through the story of a rabbit or khargosh whose image keeps merging into the shape of the letter making children and elders identify the letter with the animal.

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