�"We Built This Alley!”

Published Date
01 - Mar - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Mar - 2006
“We Built This Alley!”
Tech empowers people. With the government not taking sufficient initiatives in making technology trickle down to the underprivileged, it's up to NGOs and NPOs to attempt to achieve this. Ours is too huge a country for the NGOs to achieve much in terms of raw numbers, but examples and precedents can be set.

Take the example of a slum in the Govindpuri area of New Delhi, which had been facing an acute water shortage. The children in the slum decided to act, and with the aid of an NGO in their area, divided themselves into groups, allotted themselves tasks, and created a PowerPoint presentation titled "Water Project." The presentation was screened during the chief minister's visit to the NGO, and its effect was immediate: water pipes were soon being laid to the area!

The NGO was Katha (www. katha.org), and the children were students of KITES, the Infotech school that Katha runs.

Beyond Tales
Founded in 1989, Katha's basic ideology is to impart knowledge through the vast storehouse of wisdom that Indian folklore and tales comprise-hence the name. In partnership with British Telecom, KITES (Katha Info Tech School) was opened in 2001 as an extension to the Katha School of Entrepreneurship. The school, located in Govindpuri, was the vision of Geeta Dharmarajan, executive director of Katha. Most of the students are from Govindpuri, and the school has introduced computer education for the children-and not just for the older students. Parvinder Kaur, principal of KITES, says, "Even the youngest students, who are about six, are taught to use MS Paint and other basic software. The images they create are amazing."

"We realised that computers and their applications were no longer something reserved for the elite. Computers had entered mainstream businesses. Simultaneously, we found there was a large job market for data operators and designers in the city. Besides receiving education, we wanted to ensure that the youth from the school are employed so that they feel self-reliant. And so, we initiated a school with curricula related to computers to provide vocational training."

"Its Our Home"
The children at the school have been actively participating in GReDI, the Govindpuri ReDesign initiative-an ongoing project started two years ago. These computer-savvy 12 to 17-year-olds, under the supervision of their teachers, have actually undertaken the complete restructuring of the housing system in the area. They're using mapping and designing tools for this purpose, and plan to put forward a proposal to the Delhi Municipal Corporation when they're done.

KITES serves not just its students: the school also aims at utilising its resources for the good of the community, and their IT labs are used to carry out several projects for the community.

At Govindpuri-the KITES facade understates what lies within 

A room with a view-inside KITES

Towards Employment
KITES began with a one-year certification course, primarily for students who have graduated from school. The course is also open to young adults who have been unable to attend school.

Students who take up this course are mostly aged between 15 and 19. The course is vocational in nature, in which the students are taught basic courses for six months, and then in the next six months, they have to choose between four electives-on the designing front, they choose between Web Designing and DTP, and for accounting, they choose between Financial Accounting and Office Automation according to the certificate they want.

For accounting, they receive training in MS Office and Tally-an accounting software-besides other related office automation. And in Web Design, they learn to use software such as  DreamWeaver, as well as DTP-a programme that includes CorelDraw, PageMaker and Photoshop. Besides, there is a six month certification in hardware (networking, hardware assembling and card repairing). These courses prepare the children for gainful employment.

Later, the school decided to teach the children to use computers at the high school  level. Today, children are trained, at the outset, in school and they have the option of continuing with the certificate course if they do not find employment after graduation.  The school certificate course, called the KSSC-Katha School Support Certificate-is initiated in the sixth grade, and continues up to the ninth grade. This certification runs parallel to their regular school curriculum, and the children are taught to use the Windows operating system as well as the Internet. These students also use animation software-Flash and Photoshop Illustrator for graphics. In their tenth grade, the students are required to create a documentary using digital cameras.

Effective Teaching
Most of the teachers at KITES have IT certification themselves. To keep up with developments in software, the school conducts a 60 hour training in the months of May and June, where new faculty members are familiarised with course work. In addition, there is a week-long training prior to the winter break in December. The training focuses on capacity and curriculum building where the administration reviews work done in the academic year, updates syllabus and reviews and solves any setbacks that they have faced.

"Language is sometimes a barrier," says Rana. "Most students speak and know only Hindi, whereas the software is in English. We aid them in understanding some terms by what it does." The children learn from each other, and this diminishes the hurdles that language creates. All in all, the enthusiasm that the children show overcomes many hitches they face.

It's Not All About The Money
The aim is to allow the children to experience technology by themselves. The children are not exactly taught, but rather, are guided through their projects. Each child is required to conceive of, visualise, implement and present the projects assigned to him or her. A child, as a result, gains tremendous confidence in his ability to carry forth on his own. 

"Just a basic education does not qualify the children professionally. Technology is easy to handle with constant practice, and it bridges the divide between where they come from and where they aspire to be," says Parvinder. With certification, they are equipped to work in the capacity of Web designers and data operators, a profile that is otherwise inaccessible to them. Once they are certified, employment is easy. KITES also holds a "job mela"-a week-long workshop-once the students have completed the course, where they provide them with career counselling and inform them about vacancies. The school has had success in placing 90 per cent of their students since inception. A job for the students is the end goal of the certification program, and the administration perseveres in its search until a student is successfully placed.

While the cost of such courses run into the thousands of rupees at private institutes, KITES only charges a small fee. Besides, the school has other incentives for the students. "We have no prerequisites during registration. But our criteria are of different sorts altogether. We award the students for tasks completed, which translate into scholarships. For example, we take twenty rupees off a student's fees if he or she is regular. Good work is rewarded with ten rupees off their fees," says Anant Singh Rana, a teacher at KITES.

The work done by these young adults and school students has produced a noticeable difference in the community. The fact that the youth from impoverished houses in the Govindpuri area are earning produces a ripple effect, where the residents want to improve as a community. With constant support from their sponsors, KITES hopes to carry forward their initiative to the rest of the city. 

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