INDIA - 24 January 2024

Empowering dreams: educational initiative bridges the digital divide in India

In the heart of Bawana, an industrial suburb of Delhi, 16-year-old Nazia dreams of becoming a lawyer.

Nazia's pursuit of education was challenging as her family lived below the poverty line. As the eldest of five siblings, she was the first of her generation to access formal education.

“I used to dream of touching a computer keyboard like other children in my class,” says Nazia. “It used to be a dream for me to be able to touch a screen, I didn’t know what it would feel like, because no one in my family had ever touched a smartphone.”

A turning point in Nazia's life came when her family, struggling to make ends meet, became part of a family strengthening programme initiated by SOS Children’s Villages Bawana during the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme provided essential support, including dry rations and a tablet for Nazia and her siblings to keep up with their education during lockdowns.

Nazia's family faced health problems as well. They live next to an industrial drainage canal with harmful chemicals and, in the slum, there is limited access to clean water and hygiene facilities. The lack of employable skills also restricted her father to low-paying manual labor jobs.

However, in the family strengthening programme, the family received a loan to purchase an e-rickshaw which became a source of sustainable income.

Breaking the cycle of unequal opportunities

Nazia’s wish to learn how to use a computer also came true. She and her three school-going siblings were enrolled in the Digital Learning Centre, an initiative by SOS Children’s Villages to bridge the digital gap prevalent in marginalized communities. The programme is run in six locations across India.

The India Inequality Report 2022, produced by Oxfam, shows that among the poorest 20 percent of households in India, only 2.7 percent have access to a computer.

Mohammad Jibril, working at SOS Children’s Village Bawana, emphasized the impact of the digital divide on students like Nazia. Beyond hindering their access to learning materials, the gap slowed academic progress and increased the risk of student dropping out due to perceived inadequacy.

“For first-generation school-goers, it is quite likely to result in abandoning education altogether because of the shame of not performing well, which is seen as a sign of the child’s lower aptitude for education, instead of being seen as a result of unequal resources,” he says. “In the long run, this can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and unequal opportunities for children.”

SOS Children’s Villages India's Digital Learning Centre programme has played a key role in addressing this challenge. Across the country, more than 700 children, including Nazia, have received digital literacy training - a pathway to equal opportunities.

Tears of joy

Nazia's mother, Nazneen, expressed how the schooling and digital literacy has benefited her family.

"When I witnessed my daughter using a computer at the center for the first time, I couldn't hold back tears,” she says. “It was unbelievable to see my child, born into our illiterate family, confidently working on a computer like wealthy and educated individuals. The moment overwhelmed me, and I couldn't stop sobbing.

“Now, whenever there's government paperwork for benefits, I turn to my children. They can all read, write, and operate computers. I just want everyone to understand that we may be financially poor, but we are not lacking in intelligence," she adds.

Nazia's story is a testament to the power of education and digital literacy in breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality. Through initiatives like the Digital Learning Centre, SOS Children’s Villages India strives to empower children in marginalized communities, ensuring they have the skills and knowledge to overcome barriers and become their strongest selves.

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