In a situation where 30 crore people are still illiterate in India, and the primary programme for adult literacy ‘Sakshar Bharat’ is approaching its closure in 2017 with limited results, the National digital literacy mission comes with a new route towards empowerment.
The objective of the National Digital Literacy Mission is to digitally literate at least one person, preferably women, in every family. The paradox of the situation, where literacy is not viewed as pre-requisite for digital literacy, goes to show how the government is working in silos and was echoed by all the participants of the two-day national Consultation on “Adult literacy and Digitalisation” organised by Nirantar.
Viewed as a skill which empowers and opens opportunities for people to participate in democratic process, literacy seems to be overtaken by the digital literacy mission, thus denying the right of every citizen to be literate. It would also make them the consumers of technology and will not take up their ownership to participate in the public domain.
Under this program, as discussed by the panelists, a 20-hours course will be provided for people in various Indian languages.
Its objective is that “digitally literate citizens would be able to operate computers and have digital access to devices like tablets and smart-phone, send and receive emails, undertake cashless transactions and browse the internet to access government services and search for information”.
It was argued that this limited and narrow intention of the program is not only marginalising the already marginalised, but also not really addressing the larger issue that would mean that the basic digital skills learnt in 20-hours course open up the world for social and political engagement for the learners?
Participants at the consultation asserted that digital platform opens up new possibilities where “women can re-create solidarities and re-claim their knowledge, resisting the political and economic pressures that fragment (and sometimes co-opt) women’s collectives into the status-quo”.
The idea is not to undermine the digital methods/technologies or adult literacy or to substitute literacy with technology, but the larger question before us today is how to make it more sustainable and how to bring the discourse of adult literacy in the arena of digital literacy?
In the present context, where digitalization is the new grammar for public participation and empowerment as the goal/commitment for development, how far would programs like adult literacy and digital literacy be successful if they continued to work in compartments. Although it is important to talk about the structure of a program like digital literacy or adult literacy, it is also significant to understand the perspective behind them.
As was expressed during the discussion, the programme is aiming at making woman from every family digitally literate, in the hope that this would transform into the whole family becoming literate. This viewpoint only reinforces the role of woman as mother and care-taker of the family, and does not respect her individuality and her right to be literate as a citizen. It also brings forth a very pertinent question, that how are women being perceived by the state actors as citizens?