Digital libraries and the rural landscape

Digital libraries and the rural landscape

Every afternoon in Kottagalu, Pallavi and her friends eagerly rush from their school building to the village community centre, turning up in class the next morning full of new stories and ideas. 

For the past month, the children of Kottagalu and adjacent villages have been enjoying the benefits of the newly-built digital library. “I get so excited every afternoon at the thought of being able to use the computer again. I have read more than twenty books already!” gushed Pallavi (12), a Class 6 student. 

Housed in the local community centre, the library contains a small collection of printed material, as well as hundreds of digital books in Kannada and English.

Project JnanaShala, the non-profit initiative that has brought the library to Kottagalu, has also equipped the community space with a television, a Wi-fi connection and two desktop computers. 

“We knew that children in villages rarely have access to good library facilities. The infrastructure for digital learning too, is rudimentary,” said Arvind Kamath, co-founder of the project. “Most people in Kottagalu had never seen a computer, and most children had not ever read a storybook. The digital library opens up endless possibilities for children to learn and hear stories from all over the world,” he added.

The digital library is regularly updated with e-books from different authors, along with video content discussing life skills and morals. Other topics covered by the videos and e-books include science, music, drama, sex education and history.

The digital facilities also help improve the children’s computer literacy, and has encouraged several families to continue their children’s schooling. According to Manjunath K S, a coordinator working with the project, “Due to the various challenges of Covid, many parents had stopped sending their children to school. They were keeping them back to work in the fields and help out at home. However, the prospect of their children improving their English-language skills and learning to use a computer and other technology has encouraged them to start sending their children to school again.”

For parents, the community space itself has been a blessing, considering the challenges the pandemic poses to regular schooling. Since the lockdown, the community had been struggling to find a way to screen online classes. Pallavi’s mother, Suma K S credits the library with restarting the children’s education. 

“This year, learning had become so difficult for all the children in our village. The library has opened up the space and facilities we needed to keep our children learning. It also helps our children learn about new topics, outside of school subjects. We would never be able to tell our children so many stories ourselves,” she mused.

The additional reading practice offered through the library has already helped in skill development, according to local school administrators. “We have seen the reading and reasoning abilities of our students improve already, in such a short time,” said Shankaramurthy T D, headmaster of GHTS Government School. “Students come back to school the next day and share what they have learnt with their friends. It is very rewarding to see their hunger to read, learn and discuss with each other,” he added.

Parents and teachers also expressed their approval of the mentorship system implemented at the digital library, wherein a Grama Gelathi or facilitator helps the children navigate the reading and technology. 

“We make sure the children have access to a wide range of styles and topics. Many children did not even know what poetry was, others had never read a picture book. Others were afraid to even touch the computer at first, but now use it with ease. The syllabus may be useful for them to get jobs in the future, but the morals, values and skills they learn through reading will help them through their entire life,” explained Rekha, the facilitator at the library in Kottagalu.

The Project JnanaShala team now aims to establish similar digital libraries in four neighbouring villages in Kanakapura taluk - Chikkakalbalu, Pichanakere, Cheeluru and Haroebele. 

Young Pallavi believes that this is a very good idea. “The new library in our village has made us so happy by bringing so many new stories to our village. Just like me and my friends, I wish other children will be able to use computers and read daily too!”