Field Work

From IT for Change's Annual Report for 2013-14

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Intensive pilot programs at block and school levels

During the last two years, we have been working on piloting ICT integration in school processes (teaching-learning and school leadership) at the level of individual schools through the Kalike and the Teachers' Community of Learning programmes.


Our project in Yadgir, which aims at working on ICT integration in teacher professional development, classroom processes and education leadership and management in all high schools of Yadgir block, is a part of the Kalike programme, (initiated by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust)). Kalike aims at promoting holistic development in one of the most socio-economically backward blocks of Karnataka, through interventions in multiple areas including early child care, education, health and sanitation.

The objectives of our work in the Kalike programme were to:

  1. demonstrate an approach to ICT integration at a block level bringing together the schools, teachers, school leadership and block administration, build a block level community of practitioners supported by a local centre for resource creation and access
  2. strengthen teacher academic capabilities
  3. work with schools on projects that required interactions with the local community, including through local knowledge mapping using GIS applications

Block level integration and digital resource centre

During 2012-13, our first year, our work focused on ensuring functional ICT labs in the high schools (provided by the Government of Karnataka under the ICT@Schools Phase 1 and Phase 2 programmes), through regular visits to the schools to maintain ICT lab infrastructure and to build teachers' capacities for basic maintenance. Besides maintaining existing labs, the project attempted to build ICT infrastructure in schools through co-ordinating donations of computers from TCS and Infosys in ten high schools.

Teachers and students accessed the ICT lab and digital resource centre in the Kalike office. The Kalike ICT lab is a 'mobile lab' consisting of light weight net books and a wireless router, and it has moved to other locations to provide local ICT access as well. Many teachers and head teachers purchased their personal laptops as well during the year, indicating their faith in ICTs for their personal and professional purposes.

Besides working with teachers in schools, our team conducted workshops on integrating ICTs for academic and administrative purposes for the Yadgir DIET faculty, as well as for Block Resource Persons (BRPs) and Cluster Resource Persons (CRPs) and supported the various academic interventions at the block level. During this period, the Yadgir High School Wiki was developed for all high schools in Yadgir block to enable them to share information about their work. Using the Wiki software enables teachers to maintain the website on their own, without needing external technical support. (The Annual Report itself has been written using Wiki software, which has been designed to support collaborative writing.

School based academic interventions

Photo of Ms Jyoti B, Science teacher, Government Girls High School, Yadgir, teaching light using a simulation created with PHET, a public educational software application
In our work with the teachers, we attempted to introduce teachers to ICT integration for teaching learning processes, ways of creating, accessing and sharing digital resources, possibilities of self learning through ICTs and documentation of teaching learning activities. The academic work continued with mathematics, science and social science teachers through workshops and school based interactions. Teachers from select schools created digital resources in the form of videos of lab experiments, lessons integrating simulations of experiments and activities and shared resources with their peers.

Teachers also conducted 'digital story telling' projects, in which they created digital documents of the interactions with important local institutions such as the panchayat office, hospital, college,shops etc. The projects were designed to create integrated learning opportunities for students, for eg. discussing local governance (political science) during the panchayat visit and likewise issues relating to animal life processes (veterinary hospital interactions), markets (economics and mathematics) in visit to shops etc.

Teachers created digital learning resources in the form of videos, simulations in mathematics and sciences, wiki pages on KOER etc. and shared these with their colleagues through the state wide 'Subject Teacher Forums'.

Local GIS mapping

We mapped schools and other public institutions, such as health centres, anganwadis, in the entire district of Yadgir and created a Geographical Information System (GIS) on OpenStreetMaps (a map website which is a public resource like Wikipedia). More than 7,500 points were mapped in Yadgir district, across the three talukas of Yadgir, Shahpur and Surpur. Along with the digital map of infrastructure, We are collating metadata on qualitative parameters using the district human development index (HDI) report information that Kalike is helping the Yadgir district administration prepare. (see Yadgir GIS).

Teachers Communities of Learning (TCoL)

Digital Story Telling and Mapping at GHS Thyamagondlu, Bangalore Rural

We have been working on a similar intensive programme in select schools in Bangalore Urban district in the Bangalore South 3 block, called 'Teachers Communities of Learning (TCoL)' with the support of Cognizant Foundation. The objectives of this school based programme included creating and supporting an enabling environment in school for ICT integration for teacher professional development as well as for teaching learning processes.

The TCoL programme is a pilot to demonstrate the possibilities of ICT integration in government schools thus providing a model for adoption across the public system. This programme was implemented in urban government high schools. The urban context can be more challenging for teachers, since the students usually come from severely marginalised socio-economic backgrounds with little or no support from home/parents for their education. The programme attempted to support teacher professional development by introducing teachers to a variety of digital methods and processes, helping them build their skills in integrating ICTs for their professional development.

“I am checking my mails regularly and getting lots of informations.Thanks to the maths and science subject teachers forum mailing list.”

- Ms. Parvati Bhat, Government High School, Gottigere, Bangalore

Besides strengthening teacher capabilities, we also supported the teachers in the design, planning and implementation of school-wide projects that would make interdisciplinary learning possible. Some examples of these projects include vegetation mapping, mapping of local institutions, GIS mapping, mapping the neighbourhood, family map information, ICT integrated science exhitions and demonstrations. Teachers learnt to integrate ICTs in these projects to support richer learning experiences for their students. Use of the internet to access secondary information, GIS mapping on virtual map platform such as openstreetmaps along with mapping on large sheets, using video cameras to create digital stories of local community interactions, use of simulations to explain a physical experiment etc. are some examples of how teachers were able to create new learning possibilities for students and themselves using ICTs

Next phase of TCoL - At a block level

The project will in its next phase (starting from June 2014) cover all high schools in the Bangalore South 3 block. The aim of selecting an entire block is to better integrate the programme into the education system's mainstream curricular and pedagogical processes, working through academic support structures (DSERT, DIET and BRC) and administrative structures (RMSA2, BEO3), that govern the school.The project has two tracks - building a community of practitioners at the block level, and a second intensive school level programme for select schools.

We expect that the participation of the DIET, BRC and BEO staff will enable greater integration of the project activities into the regular school and teacher training processes. Over the three year project period, we expect to demonstrate school based models for exploring ICT integration in the context of government schools. An intervention at a block level allows the possibility of the block to emerge as a pilot for integrating ICTs in school processes and building linkages within schools, across schools, amongst teachers and with school administration for better curricular outcomes.

Prakriye Field Strategies

Women-run, ICT-enabled community information centres

Since 2006, we have been engaged in building a women-run ICT-enabled community information centre model. The key objective of this is to create a space that can bring local governance institutions closer to women, and particularly, enable marginalised women to seek their entitlements. The information centres – called Namma Mahiti Kendras (meaning, Our Information Centres, in Kannada, the local language) – are situated in two blocks of Mysore district – Hunsur and H.D.Kote.

Catering to 5 to 7 villages, each centre is run by a Managing Committee comprising of representatives from women's collectives (sanghas) in these villages.A young woman information intermediary, sakhi (meaning friend), trained by the sangha women and the Prakriye team, runs the everyday affairs of the centre. The sakhi addresses the information needs of the village community, while focusing mainly on women's participation,and interfaces continuously with local institutions - government departments at the block level and the Gram Panchayat. A block information centre – called the Taluk Mahiti Kendra – facilitates smooth interface with block level departments, for the village cluster-level Namma Mahiti Kendras. It needs to be highlighted that the Prakriye team invests considerable amount of time and energies in training and mentoring the sakhis, as they are constantly at the receiving end of community censure, for performing a role that challenges prevailing gender norms and restrictions on young women's mobility.

At the beginning of the year, in April 2013, we had 2 cluster level centres operational in Hunsur block: in the villages of Attiguppe (Mullur Gram Panchayat), and Hosavaranchi (Uygodanahalli Gram Panchayat). Block level centres were operational in both Hunsur and H.D.Kote blocks, as we have always aimed at scaling up the information centres strategy, in the long run. In 2013-14, we set up 2 additional cluster level centres, in the villages of Bharatwadi (Doddahejjuru Gram Panchayat, Hunsur block) and Bhuktalemala (Hannuru Gram Panchayat, H.D.Kote block).

Between April- August 2013, we were engaged in the ground-work for setting up the information centre in both these villages – which included the finalisation of the location for housing the information centre, the selection of the Managing Committee members who would be responsible for overseeing the operations of the centre from among the sangha women of the village, and the selection of the sakhi or young woman infomediary for the centre.

In both these villages, we consciously pushed for a strategy that foregrounded dalit women's ownership of the centre, a move that was met with stiff resistance and opposition from upper caste groups in both areas. Therefore, we had to tread very slowly and carefully – in light of the fact that in the associated processes, the threat of capture by the informal power structures of the villages loomed large. Another challenge that we encountered while establishing the information centres was the extreme supply-side scarcity in the rent market at the village level – it was extremely difficult for us and the sangha women to identify a house to situate the information centre, in both Bharathwadi and Bhuktalemala. In each village, we have finally had to house the centre in a cattle shed, after the owner of the property had been persuaded by sangha women to give it a make-over, including a coat of paint and an electricity connection.

Surmounting these challenges, in end-August 2013, we completed the groundwork for setting up the centres. Today, in both villages, dalit women lead the governance and institutional management of the centres. We have also observed that the centres are slowly gaining the status of a community institution, and upper caste groups who originally tried to socially boycott the centre, are coming around – as they have started realising the enormous value in the new public information networks the centre opens up. Needless to say, we will continue our vigilant mentoring of the dalit women's collectives who manage the centres in both these villages, to help them ward off attempts by local caste elders and powerful political factions at capturing these valuable community institutions.

Box 1 : Attiguppe Namma Mahiti Kendra's growing linkages with the public health care system

As is well known, specialist doctors in the governmental health system, are located at the block level, and they do occasional visits to the Primary Health Centres at the village level. Laskhmi who is a member of the Managing Committee of the Attiguppe Namma Mahiti Kendra as well as the village level ASHA worker, went to attend a health department meeting at the local Primary Health Centre, in March 2014. She found the ophthalmologist (or in our parlance, 'eye doctor') visiting. He told all the ASHAS present that they could ask people from their villages to visit the health centre, any time that day, as it was the day of his scheduled visit. Lakshmi pointed out that it was not possible for people to put aside their tasks at such short notice, and come to the health centre, if prior notice was not given. She said that if the doctor were willing, the Attiguppe Mahiti Kendra (information centre) would take the responsibility of organising an eye camp -- and inform the doctor in advance so that he could plan the visit. The doctor agreed. The Mahiti Kendra organised the camp, shortly thereafter. 60 villagers, many of whom were senior citizens, attended. About 17 women were prescribed reading glasses. The doctor further helped the women in bargaining with the block level opticals showroom in getting their prescription glasses at a discount. The sangha women and the infomediary consider the fact that they got the 'eye doctor' to their village, to be one of the big successes of the Mahiti Kendra!

During the same period, we have focused on strengthening the linkages of our pre-existing Namma Mahiti Kendras at Attiguppe and Hosavaranchi, with Gram Panchayats and other public institutions such as the school, the anganwadi and the Primary Health Centre (See Box 1).

Box 2: Namma Mahiti Kendras as public interest arbitrators

- At the Attiguppe Namma Mahiti Kendra, the Managing Committee and the information intermediary are now invited by the anganwadi to audit its food grains distribution, every month. In fact, at present, it is the information intermediary who takes the photographs that are sent as documentary evidence to the block level departments, by the anganwadi workers.

- At the Hosavaranchi Namma Mahiti Kendra, the Gram Panchayat approached the information centre in mid-2013 to do a survey at the village level for identifying the list of households which were eligible for receiving grants under a rural sanitation programme for the construction of toilets. The list thus generated was tabled and accepted in the subsequent Ward Sabha – helping the information centre gain legitimacy in the eyes of the community.

The infomediaries (sakhis) of both these centres have started actively participating in all key local governance forums – such as Gram Sabha, Ward Sabha, and meetings of Panchayat committees (School Development and Management Committee and Village Health and Sanitation Committee).

As a result of this, the Namma Mahiti Kendras and their Managing Committees are increasingly gaining legitimacy as arbitrators of public interest, in the local public-political sphere.

Further, the Namma Mahiti Kendras are being increasingly flooded with requests from local governance authorities to provide 'authentic' community-generated data-sets to guide Panchayat planning and decision-making (See Box 2).

This period also witnessed the pay-offs of the long investment in enabling the infomediaries to scan the Internet for public information, and glean appropriate snippets for their work. In December 2013, the infomediary at the Hunsur block information centre, in the course of her periodic scanning of governmental information, found the list of wage payments made under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for all the villages in Mysore, published online. She shared this information with the other infomediaries over the phone, and at the subsequent infomediary meeting convened by us in Mysore. Each infomediary scanned the list for the information pertaining to the geographies they hail from, and then shared this list with women's collectives in their communities. Such an examination of the list revealed many inaccuracies. Though the women's collectives did not go on to openly confront the Gram Panchayats in these areas, as this scheme is highly politicised and there is a high risk of reprisal from those involved in the deep-rooted nexus of corruption associated with the implementation of the scheme, the fact that marginalised women and the infomediaries had an informed dialogue and deliberation around this issue, is in itself a significant achievement – a small step that can eventually lead to a giant leap in transforming informational cultures at the grassroots.

Finally, as part of our work under the Poorna Shakti Kendras of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, we have focused on piloting a Namma Mahiti Kendra under a new model, with the close cooperation of the Thumsoge Gram Panchayat. The Namma Mahiti Kendra will be set up in the precincts of the Gram Panchayat. The Managing Committee will not only include representatives from the women's collectives,but also the Panchayat Development Officer and the elected women representatives of the Gram Panchayat. The idea here is to strengthen the linkages between the Namma Mahiti Kendra and the Gram Panchayat, right at the outset, with the aim of attuning the Gram Panchayat to the effective use of ICT possibilities for information outreach and micro-planning. Currently, an in-principle approval from the Panchayat body for setting up the Namma Mahiti Kendra in the Panchayat precincts, has been obtained.

Community Media for citizenship education of women's collectives

Infomediary recording content for the community radio programme 'Kelu Sakhi'
The information centres at the cluster and block levels also function as a space for community media-based citizenship education strategies, that aim at strengthening the learning-action processes of women's collectives, in the following ways.

Firstly, Prakriye, in partnership with the Karnataka State Open University, runs a community radio for sangha women, to claim their rightful space in the local public sphere. The broadcast,called Kelu Sakhi (Listen, my friend) features content sourced from the sanghas, in the geographies where the Namma Mahiti Kendras are operational. Secondly, Prakriye has a community video strategy that promotes women's perspectives, working closely with sanghas on content ideation and development. Thirdly, through a digital library strategy, video screenings, narrow casting of audio clips from Kelu Sakhi, and debates on gender inequality and injustice, the Namma Mahiti Kendra acts as a crucial local institution for women's active citizenship.

The community media strategy aims at enabling the information centres to function as digital libraries that can catalyse community media-based learning processes for marginalised women. Therefore, the sakhis at the Namma Mahiti Kendras are trained to screen videos and play audio clips to individuals and sanghas visiting the centre, on a variety of thematic areas such as : women's experiences with local governance institutions, information about governmental schemes for marginalised groups, women's health, discursive critiques of gender norms, and so on. Similarly, the sakhis have been trained to take a tablet PC with preloaded video resources, and audio clips from Kelu Sakhi on her mobile, when she makes her monthly information outreach visits to neighbouring villages.

It must be noted here that the sakhis and the women's collectives are not merely consumers of the audio and video content produced by Prakriye. They play a vital role in content ideation, recording and filming processes. The effort here is to create a new communicative culture – where women see audio clips and videos as part of the learning resources they have access to; and not as objects of fetish.

Techno-social strategies for building a women's political constituency

Between 2013-14, Prakriye has focused on utilising techno-social strategies for strengthening the capacities of 56 elected women representatives in 7 Gram Panchayats of Hunsur and H.D.Kote blocks of Mysore district. Today, there are a range of training and capacity-building programmes offered by state structures and civil society organisations for first-time elected representatives, especially women. However, as has been often pointed out, most of them focus on formal, rule-book oriented approaches rather than equipping first-time members, especially women and members from marginalised communities, in tackling power-politics at the local level. Also, in the case of elected women representatives, it has often been noticed that male family members often attend training and capacity-building forums on their behalf. This is because the practice of powerful village leaders fielding women family members as 'proxy' candidates in Panchayat elections, to avoid losing their control over local government structures when their constituencies are ear-marked for reservation, is very common.

To be effective, any training/capacity-building effort aimed at elected women representatives must enable them to emerge as leaders in their own right. This is not an easy endeavour -- as the co-operation of male members and elected men, in such an effort, is hard to obtain. At Prakriye, we have used the captivating power of technology, as a tactic to gain a foothold in the Panchayats, to further our aims of strengthening elected women representatives' political voice, linking them to the larger women's constituency at the local level, and bringing in women's priorities into local governance processes.

Panchayat members being introduced to Tablet PCs
Between January-March 2014, we initiated a series of technology trainings in the 7 Gram Panchayats which are a part of the core geography that Prakriye is targeting. In these 7 Panchayats, we organised a initial set of trainings on digital photography and using a Tablet PC, for all elected representatives -- men and women. During this set of trainings, we focused on the following aspects: demystifying the art of still photography and videography; opening up discussions about the relevance of photo and video documentation to the ongoing work of the Panchayat; familiarising Panchayat members to the Tablet PC; and introducing the idea of using a Tablet PC as a mobile library with audio and video resources on various 'gender and governance' thematics. This helped us overcome the initial resistance and suspicion to our presence, and also provoked further interest among the Panchayats, in continuing their affiliation with Prakriye -- for they felt that we had something novel to offer, and it was not just 'old wine in a new bottle'.

It must also be mentioned here that the video resources screened before Panchayat members as part of the Tablet PC training -- on areas such as the responsibilities of Panchayat Committees, the responsibilities of elected women representatives in taking forward women's agendas, and the idea of setting up a Namma Mahiti Kendra as a resource centre for Panchayats, played a huge role in enhancing members' and local leaders' receptivity to working with Prakriye.

For example, in Thumsoge Gram Panchayat, the initial set of camera and Tablet PC trainings made the Panchayat body open to the idea of setting up a Namma Mahiti Kendra within the Panchayat premises, and to the idea of organising a Mahila Gram Sabha for incorporating women's agendas into planning and decision-making processes (See Box 3). We are also working towards convening Mahila Gram Sabhas in the other Gram Panchayats we are engaging with.

Box 3: Mahila Gram Sabha in Thumsoge Panchayat

Mahila gram sabha in progress
At the Mahila Gram Sabha which was organised in Thumsoge in February 2014, women's collectives raised the following concerns before the Panchayat President and the Panchayat Development Officer:

- Many houses do not have adequate drinking water supply.
- Households which are eligible for electrification under the Bhagya Jyoti scheme have not received electricity connections.
– Streetlights are out of order. This makes it very difficult for women and girls to move about in the village, in the evenings.
– There is open sewerage in the village, which poses a health hazard.
– There is undue delay in the release of subsidies under the universal sanitation scheme -- Nirmal Bharat.
Following the Mahila Gram Sabha, the Panchayat took the following steps:
– Drinking water supply has been provided to all households.
– Streetlights have been repaired.
– Drains in the village have been cleaned and disinfected.
– The Panchayat Development Officer has suggested that when the Namma Mahiti Kendra starts its operations, a GIS mapping of all household toilets that have been constructed under the Nirmal Bharat scheme be carried out, in order to identify irregularities in subsidy allocation.
Prakriye will be taking forward this agenda in the months ahead, by carrying out a participatory GIS mapping of allotment of rural sanitation subsidies, and other infrastructural works undertaken by the Panchayat.

Of course, at this point, we have not yet had a head-on confrontation with the politics of gender and caste at the local level. At some point, if this happens, we will certainly have to contend with some hostility from local power structures.

It is to prepare for this eventuality, that in parallel, we have explored community media strategies for building solidarities between elected women and women's collectives at the local level, to shape a vibrant women's political constituency at the grasssroots. The hope is that such a constituency can take on entrenched power structures, where required, to further the shared needs, concerns and priorities of women in the community, with respect to local governance processes. During January-March 2014, meetings were convened in 15 villages across 7 Gram Panchayats in H.D.Kote and Hunsur blocks, to network the elected women members from these areas with the women's collectives in their constituencies. This series of meetings has brought together 15 women elected to office, across the 7 Panchayats, with over 326 members of women's collectives. These meetings have been very helpful in triggering debates and discussion on issues such as women's demands from the Gram Panchayat, and the importance of women's paticipation in local governance forums. Video resources have been utilised where appropriate, to provide inputs to the discussions. Most importantly, the meetings have been a useful training ground to introduce women to the conventions of formal deliberative democracy -- How do you raise a question in a Gram Sabha? How do you make maximal use of the Mahila Gram Sabha? How do you strategically state your needs and requirements before elected representatives?

We have noticed that in this set of meetings, most demands that emerged were either infrastructural or about the non-receipt of individual entitlements. The challenge before us, which we hope to address through the next set of meetings that we are planning after July 2014, is to push the debates towards addressing those concerns that are often relegated to the space of the 'private' : marriage of under-age adolescent girls, domestic violence related to alcohol abuse, and so on.

GIS-enabled Participatory Mapping for accountable governance

Participatory mapping aims to empower marginalised communities to represent themselves spatially, bringing their local knowledge and perspectives in education, science, culture and communication and information to the attention of local governmental authorities and decision-makers and improving their livelihoods. Such maps can also be used to highlight existing gaps in infrastructure and services, such as low school enrolment rates, low quality public infratructure provisioning (schools, primary health care centres, water points,sanitation facilities etc.)

It is also important and relevant to note that adult illiteracy in most parts of India, including the areas in Mysore district that Prakriye works in, is extremely high. This means that the manner in which information is largely available – in written and text-based formats – is not accessible to a large section of the adult population. Lack of textual literacy also hinders their ability to meaningfully participate in decision making and planning activities in their communities, and often forms a barrier between them and new technologies. Visual mapping (including audio metadata possibilities ) could allow for these sections of the population to find meaningful ways to participate in development planning processes, give them a sense of ownership and engagement.

During 2013-14, we therefore carried out 'GIS Mapping on OpenStreetMaps' for Hunsur block, as part of a UNESCO supported programme to map 'points of interest' on OpenStreetMap, covering all public / social infrastructure such as roads, schools, health centres, panchayat offices etc. The Prakriye team also trained the staff of a local NGO, DEED, on mapping points on OpenStreetMaps, as part of building capacities for data mapping and visualisation among local civil society organisations.

The maps thus created are easily accessible from the OpenStreetMaps website. Access need not only be limited to individuals, but can also include facilitated,communal access through village tele-centres and in the offices of NGOs, CBOs etc. Such a collective viewing of visual representation of key public information though GIS-enabled mapping, in a facilitated manner, can trigger discussions amongst community members and support bottom-up and participatory processes towards deepening democracy and enforcing the accountable governance agenda. The coming year, we will be utilising the education-related data for running a campaign in Doddahejjuru panchayat -- an area which has very low enrolment and retention rates. Also, we will be exploring further possibilities for creating Panchayat-level maps that can trigger discussions around effective implementation of schemes, in Thumsoge, building on the specific discussions highlighted in Box 3.

Mobile phones for informational networking

In 2013-14, we have made significant progress on the work initiated last year for the creation of a dialogic platform using the possibilities offered by Interactive Voice Recording System (IVRS) technology, for geographically dispersed elected women representatives and women's collectives to share insights on their specific experiences with, and challenges they have faced in dealing with, local governance institutions. While there is still a lot of ground to be covered before this vision can be fully realised, some headway has been made in the direction of forming an IVRS network of women's collectives and elected women leaders in the project area. At this point, test-runs of the voice-blast system have been satisfactorily completed – since January 2014, weekly reminders of the Kelu Sakhi programme and welcome messages to key women community leaders for project events, have been regularly sent. At every meeting, the mobile numbers of the participants are being enrolled by the field centre team who intend to send 1 minute “info capsules” about governance schemes, Panchayat functioning, women's rights vis-a-vis local institutions, from June 2014 onwards, on the IVRS network thus being created.