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September 7, 2016

At the Central Jail – Tihar, New Delhi, India, a tall, well-spoken man in his twenties introduces himself as Raju Bhai (name changed). His face lights up, his voice filled with excitement that he is acknowledged as ‘Sir’ or ‘Guru’ by fellow inmates. He will always remember the day when two detainees, before their release, came to him, touched his feet and thanked him for being their teacher.

Raju Bhai is a strong champion and a volunteer trainer of the Adult Literacy Program (ALP) at the Central Jail – Tihar, New Delhi, where TCS’ Computer Based Functional Literacy (CBFL) modules are empowering lives. Inmates like Raju Bhai are discovering the joys of learning the 3 R’s – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.

The philosophy behind Victor Hugo’s quote “He who opens a school door, closes a prison” is doing wonders at prisons like the District Jail in Rohini, New Delhi, and especially the Central Jail – Tihar, New Delhi, which for most people conjures up images of hardened criminals who are assumed to be making nefarious deals with each other while plotting their escape from the long arm of the law. In fact, one of the immediate visible benefits of ALP is that crime levels within the jails have dramatically reduced since the inmates are engaged through the CBFL modules developed by TCS.

Since April 2011, through the CBFL modules, TCS has been boosting the Padho aur Padhao (Learn and Teach) program of the National Literacy Mission Authority, the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Department of Prisons, India. The superintendent of the District Jail in Rohini, New Delhi, feels that ALP has been deeply entrenched into the inmates’ daily lives. “It works because the CBFL software is intuitive and makes it easy for learners to recognize, repeat and recall concepts. A 100 per cent literacy rate among inmates who have been here over six months speaks for the effectiveness of the program.”

Like Raju Bhai, the superintendent is deeply touched to hear from inmates how being able to read has made a big difference to their lives. “An educated person takes for granted that he is able to read bus numbers. But for an inmate, it is a triumph over the embarrassment he used to feel at being unable to read and comprehend. I can hear the ring of excitement, the gratefulness when he talks about his newfound ability to read directions or be able to take a bus to another village because he can now comprehend numbers.”

It is not just the thrill of adding one more word to your vocabulary. Another inmate mentions that while he knew the word ‘mother’, he didn’t realize how personal and meaningful it would be when he wrote it and understood the nuances the word held. It has now made a huge difference in the way he sees women, especially his wife and his mother.

The excitement of becoming literate is, however, not visible at the beginning of the program. It is only natural that it is met with disinterest because it is looked upon as a chore. But not for long. The CBFL modules are very interactive and different from the usual classroom teaching. Students are taught to recognize the words they speak. For example – they learn to connect the word makaan with the picture of a house. And once their curiosity is aroused and their capabilities recognized, attendance is almost 100 percent.

Ravi Yadav, a volunteer from a local NGO, says: “For the 18 to 21 year olds at the Central Jail – Tihar, New Delhi, computers are an attraction and have sped up the learning process. Their rudimentary education has received a boost with introductory lessons in Hindi.” It has taken Yadav’s students just three to four months to be eligible for the NIOS (the National Institute of Open Schooling) Basic Literacy Examination. It is also encouraging to see that some students are applying for a Bachelor’s Preparatory Course through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).

Raju Bhai says that the inmates view ALP as an opportunity to be part of a special community within the jail. “They are able to do something constructive with their time, instead of just sitting around, after the designated tasks around the jail are completed. It gives them a chance to look at life optimistically.”

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