Just 40 hours

Can make you literate

Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

till about a year ago, Gauzia Begum Mohammed, 40, and Velimela Kalavathy, 35, residents of the Bandalguda village of Andhra Pradesh, were counted among the 35 crore Indians who could not read or write. Not anymore. Both have learnt to read. Gauzia can now sign her name and Velimela knows what her kids are taught at the school.

What has changed their lives and that too within 40 hours is the computer-based functional literacy (cbfl) programme run by the Mumbai-based Tata Consultancy Services (tcs) in partnership with the Andhra Pradesh government. Gauzia and Velimela are now working as instructors for the project, passing on what they have learnt.

The programme is unique. Standard adult literacy projects teach reading, writing and arithmetic, and they require trained teachers, classrooms, and anywhere between six months to two years to complete. But the tcs programme focuses exclusively on reading. "It is designed in such a way that illiterate people can start reading their own spoken language within 40-50 hours of learning. The hours are usually spread over three months," says B G Shively, consulting advisor of tcs. Learners are taught to read about 450-500 keywords of daily use of any language. They observe a graphic pattern of a word that they are already familiar with, as well as its alphabets and syllables on the screen of a computer. They are then made to match the graphic pattern of the word with its diction supplied by a voice over. In the process they learn to read. The course is based on the study material of the National Literacy Mission.

The cbfl programme is being used in more than 400 literacy centres of the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. Since it is multimedia-driven, it does not require trained teachers. A class consists of about 20 to 25 learners. At the end of 17 lessons, learners are able to read 12 to 14 words per minute. "The project has made close to 20,000 people functionally literate," informs A Lobo, assistant manager (hr), tcs.

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