"Education should be so revolutionized as to answer the wants of the poorest villager”. These words, spoken by Mahatma Gandhi, continue to resonate well into the 21st Century. The 2011 Indian Census demonstrated that almost 70% of Indians continue to reside in rural areas, where access to education and other services often remains weak.The State Government of Telangana is determined to meet Gandhi’s challenge to revolutionize this system with the innovative Digital Telangana Initiative. This program is designed to promote equity in access to services by ensuring that digitally connected infrastructure is created right to the last mile. The initiative aims to place a digitally connected “kiosk” in each of the 8,750 villages of Telangana.
Jayesh Ranjan, Secretary to Government of Telangana, Information Technology, Electronics and Communications Department, has led the implementation of this project. He oversaw the launch of the first 100 Digital Telangana kiosks on 2 October, the 146th anniversary of Gandhi's birth. Mr. Ranjan notes that this was a particularly appropriate date as, “Gandhi believed that the real India lies in her villages, and this initiative is really going to empower people in the rural areas.”The kiosks will make accessing services substantially easier for the approximately 60% of Telangana’s 32 million people who live in rural villages. Mr. Ranjan explains that “each of these digital kiosks will be providing lots of services to the people who live in the villages. Typically, they would have otherwise traveled quite a distance to access all these services and our attempt now is to make all these services available right at the doorstep”.
To reduce any discomfort villagers might otherwise encounter with such an innovative program, each kiosk will be run by a “very, very empowered woman, deeply integrated in the core social fabric of the village”.
“I am so lucky to be selected as the village level entrepreneur. My responsibilities include giving all birth and death certificates and manage all bank transactions in my whole village”, notes Bharathi Guntu, Village Level Entrepreneur in Kompally Village, adding that “HIV is a main health problem in India. To rescue people we are giving TeachAIDS education in villages”.
The services offered in the kiosks will include government services, such as social pension and government works payments; banking services; insurance services and training. The training component of the program will include the provision of hardware, which will incorporate the use of computers and televisions to display content on agriculture, education and health.
The Telugu and English TeachAIDS HIV education animations will be integrated into MANA TV, the government-owned station that will be featured on television and computer screens in each kiosk. At a national press conference in commemoration of World AIDS Day 2015, Mr. Ranjan announced that “the TeachAIDS multimedia material will be the first digital content that would be showcased to the rural folks under the Digital Telangana initiative”. Kiosk staff will be notified before each telecast, allowing them to invite a group of people they expect to benefit from the TeachAIDS animations to join the screening.
Mr. Ranjan expects that, when coupled with the credibility of TeachAIDS, these screenings will take on an unprecedented degree of legitimacy. He notes that “when we find collaboration that are very credible and deeply passionate about core functions, we find this as a very, very good opportunity—a real win-win situation” for the government and community alike.TeachAIDS commends Mr. Ranjan and the Telangana State Government on this ambitious program. Through this collaboration, we are one step closer to Gandhi's vision that “true education should be easily accessible to all and should be of use to every villager in his daily life.”
Photo: Dozens of men and women in Kompally village, Ranga Reddy District, learn about HIV education through the Digital Telangana Initiative using the TeachAIDS animated software