The Truth Behind the Growing Number of India’s ‘Digitally Literate’

The Truth Behind the Growing Number of India’s ‘Digitally Literate’
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The Truth Behind the Growing Number of India’s ‘Digitally Literate’

The Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, the 20-hour ‘free’ Aadhar-linked digital literacy certification course, has strict identification monitoring but fails on course delivery.

A PMGDISHA training centre in Kalwar village. Credit: Shruti Jain

A PMGDISHA training centre in Kalwar village. Credit: Shruti Jain

Jaipur: “This digital literacy programme is just like any other literacy programme in India. If a person enrolled in the programme is able to write his name, he is categorised as ‘literate’. These programmes are being used as a tool by the government to improve their ‘numbers’,” said Hemraj, a Rajasthan State Certificate of Information Technology (RS-CIT) holder, an IT literacy course compulsory in government jobs of the state.

The Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA), one of the largest digital literacy programmes in the world, aims to make  six crore households in rural India ‘digitally literate’ by March 2019 with an expected budget of Rs 2,351 crores. To achieve the target, the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats under the scheme are expected to register 200-300 candidates from their areas.

Student summary registered for PMGDISHA at a training centre in Sanganer. Credit: Shruti Jain

Student summary registered for PMGDISHA at a training centre in Sanganer. Credit: Shruti Jain

Common Services Centres e-Governance Services India Limited is a Special Purpose Vehicle (CSC SPV) incorporated under the Companies Act, 1956 by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Government of India, to monitor the implementation of the scheme. At least one CSC is envisaged in 2.5 lakh gram panchayats for the delivery of the services. The PMGDISHA training is done through public-private partnerships (PPP) with various agencies known as training partners.

The training centres in each gram panchayat are about five kilometres away from the villages. Already operational private computer training institutes have been converted to these training centres.

Centres are paid Rs 300 against each registered candidate only after the successful completion of an hour-long online objective test for certification, and each centre is expected to have a minimum of three computers with webcam, biometric finger print scanner or iris scanner, internet connectivity and power backup.

Content outline

The content of the programme includes the training to operate digital devices (tablet, smart phones and computers), browse the internet, use e-mail, access online citizen centric services and carry out digital payments. The choice of the method of delivery of the course is left open to the trainers and there are no means to check if a candidate is given the 20-hour training properly. “We share videos as per the topic and give technical support to the trainers in case of software related problems,” Suneel of Excel Technovation Pvt. Ltd., a training partner under the scheme, told The Wire.

“There are no fixed timings for the classes under PMGDISHA. Candidates usually come only for the online test. The registered candidates generally belong to the age group of 15- 35. Our centre also provides RS-CIT course, so we ask the students of the course to apply for PMGDISHA also,” said Mohan Lal Yadav, a trainer at one of the centres in Niwaru village of Jaipur.

Each centre has only three computers, which restricts individual training. Trainers teach on a single screen shared by a group of students. “The course demands a two-hour training for ten days to each student. Around 63 students have registered with me under PMGDISHA and about 200 students come to our institute for RS-CIT, tally and desktop publishing (DTP). Charges for other courses range between Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 but for PMGDISHA, we are paid only Rs 300 per candidate which makes the course non-profitable for us,” said M.L. Sharma, a trainer at a centre in Sanganer.

Learning outcome

While the course module specifies detailed digital training, the student’s learning outcome makes only five digital transactions and email verification (@pmgdisha.in) compulsory.

Student outcome form under PMGDISHA displaying digital transaction entries. Credit: Shruti Jain

Student outcome form under PMGDISHA displaying digital transaction entries. Credit: Shruti Jain

“Five digital transactions are compulsory to complete the student outcome form after which they are certified. These Rs 1 transactions are done from a training centre’s account to Common Service Centers by any one mode specified in the list (USSD, AEPS, BHIM/UPI, e-wallet, NEFT, etc.) It cannot be identified who has done the transactions. Normally, trainers do it themselves,” added Sharma.

Formalities burden

For each candidate, a trainer is supposed to feed Aadhar and bank details, seek approval from the sarpanch for panchayat documents, verify e-mail address, form digital lockers and fill outcome forms, apart from the daily two hours training.

A student profile registered under PMGDISHA. Credit: Shruti Jain

A student profile registered under PMGDISHA. Credit: Shruti Jain

If a training centre is a CSC, the payment is made directly to their bank accounts. If the training centre is under a training partner, the payment is sent to the partners who later allocate the funds to the respective centres.

“The number of formalities required is so large that we are occupied only with completing them rather than training the people. Out of the Rs 300, we get only Rs 225 in hand after the training partners deduct their commission. The sarpanch also asks for his share, leaving a negligible amount of money in our hands. Why will anyone take so much trouble for such little money? Many trainers also wrongfully charge Rs 100 from candidates for an otherwise free PMGDISHA course,” a trainer, on condition of anonymity, told The Wire.

No one fails

The programme says ‘The training cost to the training agencies would be released by CSC-SPV only after the successful certification of the candidates subject to meeting the prescribed outcome criteria”.

Students counter displaying equal numbers of candidates who completed the test and are certified. Credit: Shruti Jain

Students counter displays equal number of candidates who completed the test and are certified. Credit: Shruti Jain

The maximum number of candidates that can registered in the course is 250. Once 250 candidates are registered (which is monitored on the portal), admission stops. If a few candidates among these 250 fail (which has never happened), no new registration is made in their place.

The online test consists of 25 questions out of which if seven are correctly answered, the candidate passes the test. As per the trainers, 20 of the 25 questions are normally repeated.

If the students are able to answer seven questions correctly, they pass. If they don’t not pass the test, we don’t get the training money,” said Saini, a trainer in Niwaru village centre.

Speaking to The Wire, Madhukar Sharma, a representative of PMGDISHA in Rajasthan, said that the online test for digital literacy certification starts only after a student’s biometric finger print is entered which avoids proxy examinees. Also, the five digital transactions (refundable) are to be made by a candidate’s account, not the centre’s account. Invoices are not generated for the centres who have made the transaction through their accounts.”

Comparison with National Digital Literacy Mission

The National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) was earlier launched to impart IT training to 52.5 lakh people, including anganwadi, accredited social health activists (ASHA) and authorised ration dealers across the country in two phases. The project is now closed.

“Since the NDLM was not monitored properly, people misused it. Under the NDLM, no enrolment limit was set and the training cost was higher. Candidates falling under the SC/ST category had to pay Rs 500 while the OBC category candidates were supposed to pay Rs 300. Trainers took Aadhaar cards from the candidates, gave the tests themselves and made a lot of money. Now, under the PMGDISHA, they have increased the monitoring through making calls to random candidates to verify their registration for each candidate from the village,” said Pankaj Aggarwal, an eMitra shop owner in Sanganer.

Those who have successfully completed the NDLM find no utility of the digitally literate certificate. “I enrolled myself expecting that the certificate would get me a job but it seems it was a foolish thing to do. This piece of paper describes me as “digitally literate” but I cannot operate a computer or a smart phone. They (the training centre) taught me a few things but since I couldn’t practice them in the absence of a computer and internet connection at home, I’ve forgotten everything now. I never sat for any digital literacy test,” said Sitaram (25) of Kalwar village.

Sitaram showing his digital literacy certificate in Kalwar village. Credit: Shruti Jain

Sitaram showing his digital literacy certificate in Kalwar village. Credit: Shruti Jain

“We were requested by the trainer at the centre in the village to submit our Aadhaar cards for a free certification course. Few days later, we were asked to submit Rs 100 for the certificate. We never went for any training,” said Shubham (17), another digital literate certificate holder from Kalwar.

Shubham and his sister holding the digital literate certificate under NDLM. Credi: Shruti Jsin

Shubham and his sister holding the digital literate certificate under NDLM. Credit: Shruti Jsin

“If Modi is giving certificates, then we are sure he will make this (certificate) compulsory to get a job in the coming days,” said Babu Lal (40), a digital literate from Sanganer.

While officials are confident the PMGDISHA design will ensure better accountability and less fraud, it is not clear how digitally literate its beneficiaries will prove to be and how their life prospects will improve.

The Truth Behind the Growing Number of India’s ‘Digitally Literate’
The Truth Behind the Growing Number of India’s ‘Digitally Literate’

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