- Six days with the Akshaya project: day 1: overview
- Day 2: technology
- Day 3: entrepreneurs
- Day 4: promotion
- Day 5: training
- Day 6: conclusions
The Akshaya project was rolled out in Malappuram in the southern state of Kerala, one of the more backward and conservative regions of India. The population is largely muslim, has little education and is mostly rural.
Malappuram’s overall literacy rate is fairly high at 88%, although kerala state as a whole as an even higher literacy rate (the highest in India). India’s overall literacy rate is 65%.
In India, progress indicators like literacy rates are very much part of the public discourse – a few weeks ago there was an article in one of the popular magazines listing the “best” states in India, based on such progress indicators. Aiming for 100% e-literacy was one of the goals of the project, and a natural one in a state that prides itself on having the highest literacy rate in the country. It is also a big reason why the project is widely considered a success story.
Today, I’ll describe how the Akshaya people convinced people to come to the training programs.
Everyone attending classes had to pay 2 Rs a lesson (45 Rs = 1 US$), 20Rs for 10 lessons, so it wasn’t free. 2Rs is affordable though, even for poor villagers. It’s about the price of a tea, or a telephone call. The lessons were one hour to one and a half hours each – I’ll describe those in detail later.
There was much initial resistance to these lessons – a few years ago there was even an incident of burning computers by the communist party because it would take jobs away from people. Generally, the resistance seems part of a general resistance against new technology: “Why do we need this computer? What is it good for?“.
People also felt hesitant about the program being from the governement. Entrepreneurs I spoke with said they had to tell people that the program was ALSO local, being run by the entrepreneurs themselves, and not just imposed by a central governement.
To promote the training program, the Akshaya people asked a group of student theatre makers to create a street performance that would explain the benefits of computer access.
The play showed how a person trying to buy a train ticket has to stand in line for half a day, compared to the same person going to an Akshaya centre getting the ticket in minutes, and other examples of how using the computer would help people in their daily lives. The play tried to answer the “what is it good for” questions. It was performed in almost all center locations. Local governement helped getting people together in community centers or streets to attend.
Door to door.
Local entrepreneurs would then start a housecampaign, going door to door, convincing people to send one person per household to the center to do the training. Some of them got help from students who have to do compulsory social service to get their degree. The entrepreneurs I spoke with explained me they had to visit some people 2 or 3 times to convince them. There was also increasing social pressure – neighbours and local governement officials would join in, trying to convince people to give the training a try.
In the end, they convinced almost everyone. The entrepreneurs were of course pretty motivated because they would loose 120 Rs in missed governement subsidies for every person in their assigned group of approximately 1000 – 2000 people who didn’t follow the initial training course.
After the locals came to the first training course, most were convinced of its usefulness, and became more and more enthusiastic about finishing the course. Little promotion was needed afterwards.