functional literacy (CBFL) project has proved that it can
be a cost-effective solution to India's adult illiteracy problem.
But there are many miles to go, and a multitude of challenges
to be overcome for the programme to realise its full potential.
challenge has to do with resources. Getting the computers
the project requires, the infrastructure to house the centres,
the teachers to conduct the classes, all of this costs money.
Even if organisations can be persuaded to donate machines
for the programme, there are obstacles to be surmounted.
that can make the greatest difference in a project such as
this is the government, but getting its endorsement requires
hard work. Where the state and local administrations have
responded, like in Andhra Pradesh, the programme has been
a success. "We have gone to the collectors and so on,
but maybe we should go to the chief ministers," says
Kesav V. Nori, executive vice president, TCS, and one of those
prominently involved in the CBFL initiative.
The resources barricade may have tripped TCS up, but it has
learnt plenty from overcoming other impediments that the project
faced. "Initially we didn't have the wherewithal to monitor
how things were progressing," says Mr Nori, "We
had spread ourselves too thin." TCS fixed that by employing
some temporary hands.
was the obstacle posed by what Major General (retired) B.
G. Shively, under whose charge the project operates, calls
the "social dynamics" operating among people targeted
by the project. "If somebody dies in a village, nobody
attends class for 13 days," he says. "For a wedding
it's two days, and three to four for a festival. Also, the
monsoons are a hassle: leaking centres, flooded roads, etc."
Add erratic electricity supply, uninterested instructors and
badly located centres.
problem was and remains, at least in Andhra
getting the villagers to come to class. "Convincing these
people that becoming literate is a good thing is very difficult,"
says Mr Shively. Adds P. Amarender Reddy, who works on behalf
of TCS as a coordinator in the project: "Most of these
people have to work for a livelihood. Persuading them to come
to a class after a hard day's work is quite a task. The teaching
itself is the easy part; getting people into the room is much
in this context that the role of non-governmental organisations
becomes valuable. They can motivate people to join the project
by offering various incentives, like combining this literacy
programme with income-generation initiatives, self-help group
If and when they do come to class, the beneficiaries cannot
be treated like ordinary students. "Adults have to be
dealt with differently," says Mr Shively. "You cannot
tick them off: why are you late? Why are you lagging behind?
So the teachers have to be trained to understand these nuances,
and we do this to some extent. We tell them to be nice, to
be polite." The regular classroom straightjacket is absent
(for instance, women are allowed to bring their children along).
the programme has come up short is in attracting uneducated
adults among men. The overwhelming majority of those attending
the classes in Andhra are women. A shortage of male teachers
is one reason, but Muthiyala Jayamma, an instructor with the
project in Medak district, says this is because women see
becoming literate as more important than do men. "Also,
men take being taught by women as an affront to their ego;
they feel ashamed," she says. "They won't even let
their wives [who have come through the programme] teach them."