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Tuesday, 23 April, 2002, 13:20 GMT 14:20 UK
Learning in India's Silicon Valley
Young girls learn basic computer skills
Disadvantaged children are keen to learn computing
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By Habib Beary
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

A unique grassroots literacy programme in Bangalore in southern India is bringing hope to thousands of the city's poorest children.

It draws children from many of the slums dotting Bangalore, often described as India's technology hub, and aims at enrolling every underprivileged child in the city by 2003.

We would like to see that every child in Bangalore is in school and learning by next year

Rohini Nilekani, Akshara
As many as 1,500 volunteer teachers have fanned out across 300 slums in the city to further the agenda of universal primary education.

An education department survey says Bangalore, despite its hi-tech image, has over 100,000 children out of school.

'It's so nice to learn'

The programme was launched by the Akshara Foundation two years ago in a partnership between some of the city's leading software companies and the government.

Volunteer teacher with class
Games make learning fun for these pupils

"We would like to see that every child in Bangalore is in school and learning by next year," said Rohini Nilekani, the force behind Akshara, which means letters.

One among the fortunate children is 12-year-old Akeefa Samreen, who studies at one of the schools located at a sprawling Muslim-dominated slum in the eastern part of the city.

We try to make learning interesting and fun

Teacher, Roohinaaz
"It's so nice to be here. We learn but at the same time there is so much of joy and laughter.

"But for such a programme, I don't think my parents would have sent me to school," he adds.

Women driven

Women volunteers form a majority of the teaching staff who have high school grades.

Volunteer teachers themselves learn to use computers
Bangalore's IT firms are giving something back

"Akshara is a success story of enrolment, but equally heartening has been the social empowerment we have seen among our young women volunteers," says Ms Nilekani.

"We try to make learning interesting and fun. I am so happy to be of some help to these children," says teacher Roohinaaz.

"There is a spark in every child's eyes no matter how poor they are. What is required is help and motivation," adds Roohinaaz, who along with other volunteers is learning computer skills.

Later, they will pass on the skills to their students.

The programmes initiated by Akshara include preparing three to five-year-olds for formal schooling and a course aimed at school drop outs between the ages of six and 12.

Parents pay a token fee of five rupees per month or whatever they can afford.

In contrast, Bangalore's private schools charge between 300 to 1000 rupees a month.

Giving something back

Some of the city's leading software companies, which have helped turn the city into the infotech hub of India, are backing Akshara.

"The success of this programme is mainly because of contributions from the software industry," says Chief Operating Officer of Akshara Lieutenant Colonel Murthy Rajan, a retired Indian Army officer.

"Everybody wants to give back something to society."

"Without such private initiatives, we cannot achieve the goal of universal education in the country," adds Abraham Ebenezer, Principal of Bishop Cotton Boys School, one of Bangalore's leading educational institutions.

See also:

12 Mar 02 | Features
Women learners 'forgotten'
28 Nov 01 | South Asia
India votes on right to education
28 Apr 00 | South Asia
S Asia 'could do better' on education
03 Apr 00 | South Asia
Children march to go to school
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