“I still remember it as if it was yesterday”, recalls Rema, one of the pioneer trainers for Intel Learn Program (ILP) in Kerala. Rema recollects with nostalgia, “It was pouring since morning and the monsoon rains just would not stop. I was waiting for the local bus to take me to the training venue in remote Kananattukara Akshaya centre. I was desperately trying to hold the umbrella upright; trying to save it from being blown away by the strong monsoon wind. My relationship with Intel Learn Program began on that day. The countless happy faces of children who have been touched by the program, the feeling of content on the mothers’ face and the serious community issues addressed by the children…has provided a feeling of satisfaction that nothing else can provide.”
The genesis of Intel Learn Program took place in Malappuram in Kerala, in collaboration with Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM) in the summer of 2004. It started with a few selected Akshaya centres in Malappuram and has now blossomed to over 600 Akshaya Centres in 8 districts of Kerala. The June heat and the continuous downpour could not dampen the spirit and motivation of the dedicated trainers who worked day and night to reach out to every child in Malappuram - walking for endless hours, crossing hilly terrains and rivers; the Intel team reached Akshaya Centres in remote places, spreading awareness about the Intel Learn program and encouraging communities to solve community problems.
“It is unbelievable that Intel Learn Program is such a huge success in Kerala, now” says Sabreena, another Intel Learn trainer. “In the beginning, it was very difficult to reach out to the community members. Since they were from the religious minority, they were skeptical and apprehensive about the program. They were not interested in sending their children for two hours in the afternoon because they needed the children to run household errands or attend Madrasas for religious education”. The team traveled extensively to conduct awareness meetings and to interact with parents and community leaders and religious leaders. Slowly but surely, the hard work of the team paid off as children began enrolling for Intel Learn Program in nearby Akshaya centres.
Once the children completed the program, they became the brand ambassadors of the program. Children would take printouts of the activities they did during the training program and would proudly show them to their parents and friends. Soon word spread like wild fire that the Intel Learn Program was not just a computer course; it also developed critical thinking and collaboration skills and encouraged children to seek solutions to real-life community problems.
As the message spread; parents would queue up outside Akshaya centres to enroll their children for the unique program. Children on the other hand enjoyed the program to its core. They could be what they are, and they cherished the freedom to learn which was so different from their rigorous and stern school life. With unhindered support from the team, more than 2000 learners were trained in the first few months in the pilot phase. Seeing the enthusiasm of the children and parents, more Akshaya centres started implementing the Intel Learn Program.
A ripple effect of sorts was soon visible within the community; children were able to make real-life connections between their learnings and their community. They started standing up for their rights and demanding a change. Through their newly acquired skills, children were able to identify various problems plaguing their villages and found a platform to create awareness and press for action from the concerned establishment.
In 2004, the program motivated children in a small village in Pulvetta, Malappuram, to address the issue of the severe scarcity of potable water and absence of a safe playground in their village with the help of their newly acquired skills. The children were successful in putting forward their presenting their views on these issues in front of the panchyat and were successful in bringing about a real change in their community. Since then there have been numerous anecdotal instances when ILP learners have drawn attention to community problems, often inspiring the government body to react positively to their demands.
As the success began to spread in Kerala, new members joined the Intel Learn family with an aim to reach out to more and more children, who otherwise had little or no access to technology.
Intel Learn Program joined hands with Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti in the year 2005, to implement the program as a Pace setting program through various remotely located Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas. The program inspired thousands of children to undertake long hours of walking to the schools through the dust filled terrains in the peak of hot summers to undergo training. “I had to walk for four hours to reach the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in ……… But I could not give up because I knew that children needed this program to be successful”, says Ignatius another dedicated trainer.
The program gave opportunity and space to children from rural communities to explore, collaborate and work together; igniting young minds to reconnect with their own communities through technology. The program also widened horizons as it opened doors to other countries, communities and knowledge on their desktop at the click of a button.
In 2006 the Intel Learn Program joined hands with the Chandigarh UT administration to implement the program in Alternative Innovative Education centres catering to school-going children from urban slums and labor colonies. The program provided these children an opportunity to develop technology skills, collaboration and critical thinking skills – skills that are needed to be successful in workplaces of tomorrow.
As more members joined the Intel Learn team, the program spread to 14 states across the country. From the remote eastern terrains of Arunachal Pradesh to the cruel deserts of Rajasthan; from the harsh and cold upper regions of Himachal Pradesh to serene and scenic Kerala – the Intel Learn Program has changed the lives of over 50,000 children.
“Traveling long distances in rickety state government buses, walking long distances late at night and withstanding adverse weather condition did not deter us from moving forward. The vibrant young minds and bright inquisitive eyes of little children followed us everywhere we went. The sparkle on a child’s face when she successfully creates her first project using a computer makes all our efforts worthwhile” says Jacob, the Kerala State Coordinator.
The team is aware that they have a long way to go. They have a dream that the program should reach every child in India. They know from experience that the program can have a deep impact on the way children think and work – making them more confident and decisive. In their heart of hearts they know that their dream might be rather difficult to achieve but they have the smiles of over 50,000 learners to vouch for them. With a quiet confidence and a burning desire to touch lives, our trainers march on. The journey, for them, has just begun...