India: The Digital Divide

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For key stage 3 and GCSE pupils: young people in a remote village in India receive their first computer

The digital divide dur 8,06

Parveen and her bike

14 year old Parveen lives in a tiny village called Gurjola in West Bengal, India. Every morning she travels to school by bike.

Many girls like Parveen travel to school by bike in rural India Many girls like Parveen travel to school by bike in rural India

Parveen learnt to ride a bike when she was 6 years old. "I taught myself," she said. "My father had a bike. I practised on that and fell off many times until I learnt to ride properly."

Parveen's journey winds along dirt tracks, passing mud huts, cows and fields.

Parveen says, "There's everything in the village. I like going to school, reading, playing with my friends. And there's all the animals. I love it all. There's nothing I don't like about my village."

But Parveen's village is changing. They got electricity here just 6 months ago. And a few days ago, something else exciting happened. The whole village got its first computer.

The Professor and the computer

Professor Mitra installs a computer in a village in India Professor Mitra shows the children how to plug the computer in

The computer is being installed in a "hole in the wall" by a computer expert called Professor Mitra.

The Professor wants to find out how much these children can learn from the new computer if they're left to use it on their own. That means no adults allowed.

Nobody here has ever owned a computer before, and many of the younger children have never even seen one.

Parveen is straight in there to see how the computer works.

She told us, "I'm very happy that we've got a computer in the village now. This is the age of computers, so I'm hoping I can learn a lot from it."

After a quick demonstration of how to plug it in, the computer comes to life. Everybody rushes to the front of the wall to see what it can do.

Parveen is the first person to touch the computer.

She said, "It's very exciting for me to open it. I first opened the paint box and the colour palette and showed others how to work with the paint, and then I opened a few games and videos and showed others how to use them."

English experiment

Children gather around a village computer The computer is installed in a hole in the wall in the centre of the village so all the children can use it

Parveen and the other children all speak Bengali. But the games and videos are all in English. Professor Mitra wants to see how much English the children can learn by using the computer.

In the past, his work has changed how people think about access to computers. Similar experiments in 1999 showed that in some situations children can learn very well without teachers. Professor Mitra's latest experiment could change how computers are used in schools around the world.

He told us the children asked him to show them what the computer software does. "I said I can't come back everyday," he told us, "so you've got to work it out by yourself. What interests me is what will happen here."

We left a camera behind to see who came to use the computer. Lots of children turned up. Parveen stayed for most of the afternoon. Some adults came too - just because they were curious.

And that was Gurjola's first day with the computer.

City versus countryside

School girls in an English class Parveen (right) in an English class

Next day, Parveen is back on her bike. She goes to Saidunnessa Girls School about a mile and a half from Gurjola. There are 500 students at the school, and lessons can be pretty crowded.

Parveen learns English at school, but with the new computer, Professor Mitra wants to find out if her English can improve.

India is a huge country with over a billion inhabitants.

Some cities are very hi-tech, but Parveen's head teacher feels people in the countryside are being left behind.

Parveen's head teacher told us, "Of course the village schools are very much left out. There's no comparison between the level of access to knowledge and information for kids in city schools, compared to kids from village schools.

"Village schools are backwards in many aspects, in the sense of access to information and many things."

Parveen's school does have three computers. It got them in January 2012. But students have to pay 25 rupees (around 32 pence a month) to use them.

It's a lot of money for families whose average income is around £10 a month.

Parveen's family

Women in Gurjola village Many women like Parveen's mum only attended primary school. Parveen and her friends are some of the first girls in Gurjola to attend secondary school

After school, Parveen goes home to her family. Most adults in Gurjola are farmers, including Parveen's dad. They grow potatoes and rice, but there's not enough work for everybody all year round.

Parveen's mum is a housewife. She left school when she was 8 years old, but she wants her daughter to stay at school and finish her education.

She told us, "It's important that Parveen studies, because unless she studies she can't get a job. If she studies, she can get a job which will be good for her."

After she's done her homework, Parveen has dinner. Nobody has running water in the village, so the pond behind the house doubles up as a giant washing up bowl!

20% of girls in this area will be married before they're 18. But Parveen has other plans.

Parveen's plans

Parveen and friend Parveen and her best friend head straight for the village computer after school

"I dream of becoming a teacher," Parveen told us. "Then I can support my father and mother so they don't have to work so hard."

Parveen's already passing on lessons she's learnt at school to her parents.

"You see my father couldn't read or write," she said. "Now I've gradually taught him how to sign his name at least, and now I'm teaching him how to learn more."

With lessons over for the day, there's only one place Parveen and her friend want to hang out - the village computer.

Parveen loves the new computer. She says, "there's no computer in the village apart from this one. And the best part about it is it's all free. So I feel that many students from the village will learn more about the computer and maybe get jobs because of it."

Professor Mitra will come back in 9 months to see just how much Parveen and her friends have learnt from the computer.

But after teaching herself to ride a big bike when she was just 6 years old, and teaching her dad to learn to read and write, it's clear to see that Parveen is really going places!

Schools World Service is a BBC British Council co-production

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