THE corridor in the boys' primary school in Sardarpur in Dhar is clogged with excited children. Some 35 of them have turned up for their weekly date with the computer. Teacher Shireen Kureshy switches it on and the screen fills with images of a fun spelling test even as the speakers blare out a nursery rhyme. "This is so exciting," says 11-year-old Sohan Tarachand, son of a local farmworker, who joins students from 16 primary schools to take his two-hour-long computer lessons.
Sohan and his friends attend one of the MP government-run 924-odd 'headstart' schools imparting computer education in villages. Dirt-poor Dhar, where less than three of 10 people are literate and 74 per cent live below the poverty line, has 18 such schools. "The kids have taken to computers easily. They want these classes to go on and on," says Kureshy. Some walk barefoot up to 15 km for their share of interactive learning.
High school students are also beginning to savour the joys of e-education. Some 34 schools in Dhar are launching e-education over the next few months. That means equipping schools with computers carrying question banks and career guidance lessons through the Intranet. "This is value-added education," says Mulayam Singh Tomar, a maths teacher at the boys' high school in Sirajgarh.
Last month, 135 of the 417 students at Tomar's school paid up Rs 10 each to become members of the school's e-education club. They partitioned a cavernous classroom with a curtain, installed the computer and went online—half-hour classes with 30 students to a batch.
One of their cheerleaders is 18-year-old blind student Arpit Jain. The class topper resolutely believes in the power of infotech. So when authorities announced that any school-going boy or girl who managed to woo 10 villagers to a cyberkiosk and get them interested in Gyandoot would be entitled to sit for a general knowledge exam that would fetch the topper a Rs 1,000-a-month scholarship for the next five years as a prize, he didn't waste time. He coaxed 11 villagers to cyberkiosks and took the test—in Braille—with 175 kids. Arpit topped, scoring 72 out of 75 marks. "I want to learn how to operate a computer. But I am not disheartened. With new technologies, including voice recognition, I will get to use it one day. Very soon," he says. And that's more than blind faith.
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