Today was the most important day of the Digital Literacy Project in India, so far. With all of our equipment packed, we were ready to go to Paushi to actually implement the project. Packing the equipment into the car required the skills of a master Tetris player. The car did not have much storage space, so we had to carefully arrange all the boxes to fit. We also had to fit the large "Sponsor" banner into the car, which was the most problematic. At first we decided to tie the banner to the top of the car using heavy-duty string. Eventually we had to tie a rope around the ceiling of the interior of the car, and placed the banner on top of that, just above our heads. This was the idea of our energetic driver, Bishnu, who had been regularly stopping the car to make sure that the banner was still tied to the top of the car, at the beginning. We finally left Kolkata at around 7:30 AM, and traveled along "Bombay Road" again towards Paushi. Just like on Saturday, we stopped at the New Taramat Hotel in Kolaghat for breakfast.
The weather was cloudy for majority of the trip. However, when we finally reached the dirt road that leads into Paushi at 11:30 AM, a torrential downpour ensued. The road had large puddles of mud everywhere. The rivers and ponds around the village started to rise, significantly. Luckily, this rain only lasted for about 20 minutes. When we reached the Paushi library, the rain had subsided to a small drizzle, and we were greeted by Mr. Mana.
We spent the next few minutes carrying all the boxes to the veranda of the library, while trying to avoid stepping in as much mud as possible. The earlier rain made this task very difficult. After a while, all the boxes were lined up on the veranda. I decided that it would be best to set up the computer on the veranda first to show to the children. After the demo, we would move the computer into the room in the library. As a result of the heavy rain, the library lost power. Luckily we would be working on the veranda at the beginning, and the sun gave us some light through the clouds. The next step was waiting for the computer desk to arrive.
We waited under the veranda canopy for about 15 minutes, when we saw a gentleman riding a "cargo bicycle" with a newly constructed computer desk on it. The computer desk was very modern. It had a moving piece for the keyboard, and a rectangle slot for the CPU. We learned that the desk was crafted by hand in Paushi at the local furniture shop. This was very impressive as the whole desk was created from trees in the village. Mr. Mana and I moved the the desk towards a wall on the veranda, and I began planning the set-up.
Mr. Amit Paul, the teacher from Kolkata who accompanied us on this trip, and I began taking the various computer and printer parts out of their respective boxes, and placed them on a small side table. We placed the CPU in the rectangular slot, and placed the monitor on top. Next was the annoying job of connecting all of the wires to the respective parks. To make the computer station look neat, Mr. Paul and I made sure that all the wires from the CPU traveled behind the desk, and were not visible from the front. We connected the monitors, printer, speakers, webcam, keyboard, mouse, and headset to their respective locations. We then routed all the power connections through the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply), which we then connected to the library's power outlet through an extension cord. The UPS would supply emergency power and keep the computer and printer running incase of a later power outage. The power soon returned to the library around 1 pm.
The demo to the children would start at 3 pm, so Mr. Paul and I took the opportunity to eat lunch. Lunch was at Mr. Manna's house again. Just like on Saturday, we had fresh vegetables that were grown in the village, and fish that were caught in the local ponds and streams. Around 1:30 pm, I went back to make sure that the computer turned on and was functioning correctly, which it was. All of the software that we installed yesterday loaded, and we printed a test document from Microsoft Word to ensure that the printer still worked after the 3 hour journey. When everything worked as expected, we decided it was time to try out the AirTel card to see if it was registered. We were still counting on the AirTel gentleman's word from yesterday that the card would be registered. We plugged in the wireless USB stick, and saw the wireless bars turn green. The card was running on a 2G connection since we were in a very rural area, but that was fine. We went to different sites, including large multi-media sites such as YouTube, which typically takes a lot of bandwidth to load. Even though it was a bit slow, the connection worked, so I was very happy.
Mr. Paul and I did some practice walkthroughs of how we would conduct the demo, leading up to 3 pm. We ran the English learning software, and discussed which parts of the Bengali computer book that we would cover. Around 2:45 pm, school children started showing up, some coming from very far places. The moment they saw the computer sitting on the library veranda, their eyes lit up, and they kept staring at the lit up screen. I assumed that they had never seen a computer before, so this was a new experience for them. By 3 pm, over 40 school children had arrived, ranging from grades 1 all the way through first year college students studying nearby.
Mr. Swapan Jana, the local headmaster arrived by this time. He gave an introduction and explained to the children that the organization, IEEE was funding a project to show the children how to use a computer. He then explained the very basics of a computer to the students, telling that what a mouse and CPU was. He made it easy to understand for the younger children, comparing the CPU to the human brain. After his introduction, Mr. Paul and I took over.
Mr. Paul also taught in an easy to understand manner. He also made allusions to help the children understand how the computer worked. Mr. Paul talked to the students in Bangla, the local language, while I operated the computer and pointed to the various parts. We started off showing the screen, mouse, keyboard, speakers, and printer. Following this, Mr. Jana joined in the presentation, and we all demonstrated the use of the Microsoft Office products. We showed how Word can be used to write letters, while Excel can be used to create a table of student grades. These uses can be applied to the needs of the students who often write letters and pay close attention to their school results. We also showed the children how to save documents.
The next demonstration probably amazed the students the most. Mr. Paul and I showed the students how to print a document. One of the students typed up a few lines on Word, which we then sent to the printer. This was a jaw-dropping moment for the Paushi students. The fact that a picture on the monitor could suddenly become printed onto a hard-copy paper before their eyes astounded them. They kept asking us to print more documents. We also demonstrated how one can use the printer to make copies. In India, even in big cities, people typically have to travel to "Printing Shops" to make copies of documents. For Paushi, they had their very own copier built into the printer.
Mr. Paul and I then proceeded to show the students how to use MS Paint. This program appealed to most of the audience as they learned that they could create pictures on screen, and then print them to keep a hard copy. At this stage, we let some of the younger students play around with MS Paint. They created different shapes of different colors, which we then sent to the printer. Every time that some document printed, everybody's eyes lit up. They were each proud of their creation on MS Paint that they now held in their hand.
Following this session of MS Paint, Mr. Jana explained what the internet is and what capabilities it has. Since the AirTel connection was working at this point, we showed the students basic features of the internet such as Google and YouTube.
After letting the students play around on MS Paint, I inserted the English education software and let it run for about 20 minutes. The program played various animations teaching the very basics of nouns and articles. The program also taught basic vocabulary which some of the children were already familiar with. While this program was running, the head of the village, the Panchayat Officer dropped by the library to see what was going on. I talked to him, and he seemed very grateful that Paushi was given the opportunity to have a computer literacy program. By this point, we felt as though the students were getting a good idea of what they could do with a computer.
About 25 minutes into the English education software, the library lost power again. By this point, Mr. Paul, Mr. Jana, and I thought that it would be a good time to move on towards handing out some snacks to the students. The 40+ students lined up outside the library in age order. Mr. Mana had arranged for small snack boxes consisting of ice cream and some Indian sweets to be delivered to the library. I handed out the boxes to each of the children in line. During this snack time, I got the opportunity to talk to some 12th grade students in Paushi, who inquired about possible certification courses for the computer. By this time, it was around 6:00 pm, so I decided that it was a good time to start moving the computer station inside the library.
Mr. Paul and I started disconnecting the computer connections and placed them on the wooden desk to the side. We carried the desk through the narrow doorway and placed it against the clay wall to the left side of the library. Just like in the morning, Mr. Paul and I set up the computer station piece by piece on top of the computer desk. We checked to make sure that the computer was still functioning correctly, and that the printer and AirTel connection were still working, which they all did.
We then went out to buy a fan for the library, as it was very hot inside the library, so it was vital for the students and computer to stay cool. After we got the fan, we showed the students the free version of "Angry Birds" which comes pre-installed on Windows 7. I could tell that they were having a fun time playing as they laughed every time the bird flew across the screen.
By this time, it was around 7:15 pm, and the sun had gone down. Everything except the library was pitch black, as the village does not have many lights. By this time, Mr. Manna told the remaining students that it was time to go home. I talked with Mr. Jana, who assured me that he would create groups based on student ages and would start teaching computer classes next week.
After saying our goodbyes to Mr. Manna and Mr. Jana, we departed Paushi Village around 7:45 pm, and reached Kolkata after midnight.
I was very tired, yet satisfied with the way that the day had gone. I was very amazed at how interested the Paushi students were in the computer. It was nice to see that the computer was a device that the students actually wanted to learn. I had several students throughout the day ask me how soon the classes would start, which really showed me that they were interested in learning.
I hope that the students continue their enthusiasm towards wanting to learn how to use the computer. This was a very enlightening experience for me. It was fun planning and deploying this Digital Literacy Project in India.