B.S. Vasudeva Rao

Can information and communication technologies be used purposefully and effectively for adult education, and if so, how? What is the relationship between modern and traditional methods: can they sensibly complement one another? The Indian Government has launched a number of pilot projects using modern mass media such as television, computers, teletext and videotext in both formal and non-formal education. B.S. Vasudeva Rao describes these. The author is an Associate Professor in the Department of Adult and Continuing Education, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam. He has two decades of experience in planning, organizing and conducting Adult, Continuing Education and Developmental programmes in Rural and Tribal areas. He has published many research papers, articles and books concerning Adult Education.

Communication and Information Technology in Literacy for Rural Development

"/ do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possibly but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any." (Mahatma M.K. Gandhi)

With the advent of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), the world has changed into a "Global Village". This technology has also brought about inevitable changes in the field of education. Information Communication Technology involves essentially the storage and communication of information. The greatest potentiality of ICT, thus, is its ability to serve as a tool to circulate information and to in-duce a qualitative change in the life ofaman. In education, Information Technology (IT) is significant due to its enormous potential in reducing the percentage of illiteracy, according educational opportunities to people living in otherwise inaccessible areas, updating existing knowledge and finally enriching knowledgeable minds.

Communication Technology in the Indian Scenario

Communication technologies of the recent past include satellite based TV., broadcasting and long-distance telephone, video cassette recorders and computer based interactive technologies such as electronic mail systems, computer bulletin boards, teletext and videotext. These new interactive technologies have both interpersonal and mass communication characteristics.

Inter-personal communication is a face-to-face exchange between two or more individuals. The message flows in this form of communication from one to a few individuals and is relatively high in socio-economic context, and the feedback is immediate and plentiful. Mass media communication includes all those means of transmitting messages such as television, radio and newspapers, which enables a source of one or a few individuals to reach a larger audience. In this form, the feedback is limited and delayed and the messages are relatively low in socio-emotional context.

There are some developmental projects started by the Government of India to promote education through information and communication technology. The growth of television in India is an indicator of the Government's plans to use the medium for mass education and development. Television carries development messages to villages and interfaces with local development agencies to mobilize people's participation at micro-level. This medium can effectively diffuse the information faster than other channels of communication and hence can be utilized in accelerating development processes.

Video cassette recorders can play a crucial role in education and development of the rural poor. As television sets diffuse information in villages, VCRs/C.D. players can be utilized to convey education and development oriented messages in agriculture, health, family planning and in literacy campaigns. Similarly, cable networks can also be utilized at the local level for use by the organized local development workers.

Apart from these, telecommunication and computers also play a vital role in these activities. Information dissipates faster through telecommunication channels and bridges vast distances in a large nation such as India. Computers provide a means of processing information fast and efficiently. The computer coupled with other technologies like telecommunication, Internet, e-mail etc., creates a virtual classroom for education and developmental campaigns.

The transistor radio and cable network has diffused more widely in Indian villages than the above gadgets. It possesses the potential to offer programmes to villages in diverse languages, which they can understand easily.

Communication Systems in Rural Development

While considering communication systems, one has to remember that we are not dealing with a homogeneous single individual but with the people of diverse languages, cultures and social structures. This fact should be noted before introducing any new communication technology.

In India, oral communication or mouth-to-mouth information is an important means of spreading the message. Folk media are very effective in communication particularly dealing with the rural masses. While introducing electronic media, the Government has to make the policy to synthesize modern technology with folk media without in any way affecting the styles and formats of traditional communication systems. The traditional media operate in a feeble form, mainly in the rural areas.

Before introducing modern communication technology in rural development or formal education or literacy campaigns for the rural areas, programmes should keep in view the socio-economic background, attitudes and knowledge of the rural masses and the planners/officials who are implementing the communication technology.

Characteristics and Attitude of the Rural Masses

  • The people from rural areas feel that they are powerless.
    The majority are ignorant on legal and welfare measures provided by the Government.
    The rural poor do not have a forum to assist them in securing redress of their grievances.
  • About 60 per cent are illiterates and 63 per cent are living below the poverty line.
  • Except for a few small and marginal farmers, the village people comprise child labour, agricultural labourers and people with traditional occupations.
  • Many rural people have developed a kind of fatalistic attitude. This is because of their series of failures, in spite of their efforts for better living.
  • There are frequent seasonal migrations to earn a living.

General Tendency of Bureaucrats

  • The bureaucracy will act as a group and is more conscious of its position and status rather than its duties and functions.
  • In many cases, the district administration is far beyond the approach and comprehension of a common man.
  • The bureaucratic personality differs in psychological and social make-up from that of the rural person.
  • The officials irrespective of their position within the hierarchy act as representatives of the power and prestige of the entire administration structure.
  • The education and culture of the officials keep the village folk away from the administrators.

These are some of the views expressed by senior I.A.S. officers about the gap existing between the masses and bureaucrats. Sri N. Vittal, Chairman, People's Empowerment Committee, said that the common man has no direct approach to meet the higher authorities, which causes the interference of the middle man and leads to corruption. Sri Raghunatha Rao, Secretary, A.P.B.C. Welfare, also feels the same and said that if anyone wants to visit the secretariat, he has to wait long hours in the hot sun, which makes him half-die. All the policy issues are decided according to the will and pleasure of political bosses, Sri J. Rambabu, feels. Sri B. Satyanarayana, Addl. Commissioner, Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, pointed out that the existing practice was that before organizing Gramasabha the beneficiaries were selected.

All these senior officers opined that the interference of the 'middle man' is to be curbed and then only any developmental programme can reach the masses. Further they stressed, as in the U.S.A. and Saudi Arabia, 70 percent of funds are to be transferred to local bodies. The people will be aware, if the information regarding Government welfare measures is spread in advance through media and publicity, and the unwanted interference may be curtailed.

The communication methods so far practised in the formal and non-formal Indian Education system are discussed with suggestions in the following lines.

Information and Communication Technology in Formal Education

The task force of information technology has identified two important mission areas as essential for special action. The first item relates to the intellectual power to develop higher levels of software. High-level software provides a challenge to our intellectual capabilities and at the same time it generates national wealth. If the necessary conditions are provided, this single area can transform our IT., electronics and manufacturing sector into a major economic entity. Another item relates to actions for the spread of IT. applications countrywide for purposes ranging from boosting business to imparting knowledge about fundamental rights and responsibilities, imparting skills, providing preventive health care information and for several such items pertaining to acquiring a better standard of living. It forms a very useful tool for transmission of education to even the remote parts of the country for eliminating illiteracy. The country's system of education and skill-generation can be transformed in a decade by deploying IT technologies creatively and purposefully.

The effectiveness of educational radio, educational television and educational computers has already been established beyond any doubt. The computer coupled with communication technologies like telecommunication, Internet, e-mail etc., is an educative tool which would:

  • Provide individualized instruction with an opportunity for developing basic skills.
  • Encourage individual and group problem solving by providing peer expertise.
  • Provide online academic counselling through lectures, discussions etc.
  • Evaluate and monitor learning progress both internal and external.
  • Facilitate interaction with experts and fellow students around the world through e-mail or Internet chatting.
  • Round the clock accessibility to learning material of online or offline teaching through CDs.
  • Freedom to learn according to one's own pace, interest and convenience without any fear and accountability.

Also:

  • Web based instruction is coming up very fast and there is a need to integrate this media, adequately in education which has inherent advantages.
  • Notwithstanding such advantages, it is like asking for the moon to provide this modern Information and Communication Technology for the development and education of the rural poor. At village education level, IT is significant due to its enormous potential for reducing the percentage of illiteracy, providing educational opportunities to people living in otherwise inaccessible areas and imparting skills for acquiring a better standard of living. To provide such a facility, it is essential to devise a management plan and sustainability plan that will ensure the successful use of ICT in education at the grass root level.

Communication Methods Utilized in Non-Formal Education

Though the Government of India introduced an alternative system of education for illiterates, the media were not utilized in social education (1952). Further, the role of information and communication was limited in FFLP (1967) and NAEP (1978) in literacy. The importance was given to ICT only after the existence of the National Literacy Mission (1988).

Farmers Functional Literacy Programme: This programme aimed to import literacy and functional skills to farmers and agriculture labour. This was initiated during 1967-68 jointly by the Ministries of Agriculture and Information and Broadcasting. Every day half-an-hour radio coverage was given to the latest techniques and farming methods in agriculture. The learners were exposed to the radio coverage in class hours. But in many cases the timings were not convenient to the labourers and agriculturists.

National Adult Education Programme: The NAEP launched in 1978 aimed at upgrading the functional skills and creating social awareness among the illiterate masses. The Government sought the support of the mass-media, especially All India Radio, and the print media. However, as many participants were daily wage earners, the broadcasting time was not suitable for them.

The NLM approach was three pronged: 1) Total Literacy Campaign, 2) Post literacy Programmes, and 3) Continuing Education Programmes. High priority was given to environment building to sustain tal Literacy Campaigns:

Total Literacy Campaigns: The following communication methods as environment building were adopted in mass campaigns to build awareness among the masses regarding education.

In the initial stage, door-to-door surveys were conducted to identify the illiterates and explain about the value of education. In the second phase, the following communication methods were adopted:

  1. Wall-writings
  2. Literacy Jathas
  3. Cub-star vans
  4. Bus panels
  5. Mandal & District conventions involving teachers' and people's representatives
  6. Pamphlets to appeal to the public
  7. Cinema slides
  8. Audiocassettes
  9. Screening of 35 mm/16 mm films
  10. Publicity through cultural groups, performing local arts, Burra-kathas, Harikatha and puppet shows
  11. Kalajathas - groups were equipped with uniforms, mikes and musical instruments
  12. In the later stage, mini-grandhalaya, charcha-vedikasand discussion groups about human issues

These face-to-face and audio-visual communication methods had a good response and encouraged the learners to enrol in centres.

Computer Utilization

Tata Consultancy Service has developed a new package for Adult and Continuing Education Programme. They have incorporated 17 lessons from three primers of Medak district and through computers the lessons are imparted to learners. They supplied 10 computers free of cost to all the districts of Andhra Pradesh and on an experimental basis provided 400 computers to Guntur district. The prerak operates the computer and explains the lesson. The teaching learning process has better result. The benefits accrued are 1) effective explanation of the lessons by the instructor, 2) visual effect creating a good impact on learners' understanding, 3) evaluation of the performance of the learners in a systematic and easy way by the implementing agency, 4) learners showing better performance in reading skills, 5) uniform activity for all the learners in teaching.

The drawbacks observed in this system

  • There is no chance for practising writing skills. Traditional methods have to be followed for developing writing skills among the learners.
  • There is little scope for the instructor to pay individual attention.
  • If a learner is absent for one or two days, he feels newness.
  • This method provides only group benefit and in reading skills only.
  • In adult education, the process of teaching through computer is a welcome sign. But keeping in mind the circumstances prevailing at present in rural society, it should be introduced as supplementary to traditional methods.

Strategies to Implement ICT in Rural Literacy Campaigns

  • Review of existing ICT methods.
  • Socio-economic-cultural background of the rural poor to be considered before implementation.
  • All decisions should be intimated in advance in the field area, after reviewing local area situations, the communication method to be changed and finalized accordingly.
  • The functioning and approach to be changed. Proper orientation should be given to field functionaries of ICT about the local conditions, existing resources, socio-education-cultural background of the target groups.
  • The views of local bodies and non-government organizations need to be gathered and it is better such programmes be implemented through them.
  • The interference of political persons and 'middlemen' is to be avoided.
  • The traditional media may operate in a feeble form mainly in the rural areas. The new information communication system to be introduced can be supplementary to traditional methods.
  • In literacy campaigns, communication through radio and cable network may be encouraged and the programme time should be suitable for learners.
  • Lesson teaching through computer (TCS) is only helpful in developing reading skills. There is no scope to impart or develop the writing skills of the learners. Hence a supplementary technique to develop writing skills needs to be incorporated.
  • The introduction of ICT programmes under any circumstance should not be entrusted to private bodies. They can only function under local bodies.
  • The participation of people in public will only add colour to this.
  • Project information must be given in advance. No hurried contingency plan is advised.
  • Rural infrastructure mechanisms at grass root level need to be developed.

In conclusion I remember the saying of Mahatma Gandhi that

"If I learn carpentry from an illiterate carpenter only I know, how to do work, but if I learn from a literate carpenter, my thoughts will be stimulated."

This means literacy is a better communication agent. Before introducing Information Communication Technology in rural development and mass campaign programmes, people should be made aware and educated. It is suggested that the technology used in rural areas, particularly in formal and non-formal educational programmes, be linked with traditional methods, which are already known by the local masses.