‘Slumdogs’ of India’s IT hub log in to bridge digital divide

April 7th, 2009 - 12:14 pm ICT by IANS  

By Maitreyee Boruah
Bangalore, April 7 (IANS) A technology revolution of a different kind is quietly under way in India’s IT hub, where slum children log into computers to bridge the digital divide that separates them from the privileged few.

Around 15 children huddle into a dingy classroom every evening at the Sudharshan Layout slum to learn computer programmes on three desktops and two laptops, all donated.

By coincidence, the slumdogs’ Ambedkar Community Computing Centre is located behind the global IT giant IBM India’s palatial office in an upscale suburb.

“We want to locate similar computing centres across the city where the underprivileged like slum kids and others can have an exposure to the IT world by learning to operate computers,” Mani, 18, who teaches at the centre, told IANS.

The physically challenged Mani, who grew up in a slum, was trained at the centre.

The Ambedkar Youth Sanga, a local organisation working in the slums, Stree Jagruti Samiti, an NGO working for underprivileged women, and the Association of India’s Development, a movement promoting sustainable and equitable development, have collaborated in starting the single-room computing centre in July 2008.

The centre was a dream come true for the ’slumdogs’ who yearned to learn the basics of computers and step into the digital world.

Encouraged by their response, the Ambedkar Youth Sanga recently opened another computing centre at an adjacent slum.

“Every evening except Sundays, these children are taught how to operate computers,” said Mani, who is studying in Class 9.

Four techies - S. Senthil, Pulkith Parekh, Balaji Kutty and R. Aravind - hone the computing skills of Mani and Saraswathy, a 19-year-old commerce undergraduate, so that they can train the slum children.

“We currently impart skills to the kids. We plan to conduct tests to assess their proficiency. We are in the process of evaluating their learning,” said Kutty, a software engineer at Sun Microsystems, who visits the school twice a week.

“We are just volunteers. It’s the children who run the show at the centre,” said Senthil, a lead engineer with networking product firm Cisco.

“We are proud that youngsters like Mani, who learnt computing skills at the centre, went on to become a graphic artist using GIMP,” Senthil added.

GIMP or the GNU Image Manipulation Programme is a free software used for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on multiple operating systems and in many languages.

Geetha Menon of Stree Jagruti Samiti, who took the initiative to set up the computing centre, is elated.

“I am proud of the slum kids for their dedication and yearning to learn computers. They are moving in the right direction and a day will come when the digital divide will be only imaginary,” Menon said.

Mani, who dreams of an IT job, said he has created about 100 paintings using GIMP. “I sold 14 for Rs.10,000, and donated the money to the centre,” the son of a freight worker added.

Like him, Saraswathy too dreams of becoming a software professional. “We in the slums face several difficulties, right from water scarcity to access to education. We hope to bring changes in the lives of slum children through IT.”

Touted as India’s Silicon Valley, Bangalore is also home to about 800 slums. According to the city’s civic body, about 600,000 people dwell in these ghettos. This is projected to go up to one million by 2010, when the city’s total population is expected to reach 10 million from seven million presently.

(Maitreyee Boruah can be contacted at m.boruah@ians.in)

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