The central philosophy of the Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI) Programme is to bridge the digital divide between the ICT haves and ICT have-nots, by extending learning opportunities to those most in need. Consequently, BFI seeks to build educational and learning programmes that will enable the less-advantaged learners to employ and utilise ICTs, to both acquire knowledge and to improve their lives through better economic opportunities.
The BFI concept was developed by the International Literacy Institute (ILI), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. ILI has been engaged in developing literacy programmes, both in the developed and the developing countries, for over two decades. ILI has been in the forefront of using ICT in education, especially for literacy, in its wider connotation. Apart from developing ‘functional’ literacy programmes for learners from different cultural, linguistic and educational backgrounds, ILI has been successfully engaged in developing computer assisted instruction (CAI) learner and teacher-training packages using multimedia. As an international resource center for planning, implementation and evaluation of literacy projects, ILI has been actively participating in the literacy projects and programmes in a large number of countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America. Through its Summer Literacy Training Programme (SLTP), the ILI has trained literacy planners, administrators and field-functionaries from over 75 developing countries. The BFI programme is a culmination of the long experience of the ILI in literacy and ICT.
Support behind the project
Infrastructural and technical support for BFI-India has come from the State Government of Andhra Pradesh and the University of Pennsylvania. Core and continuing project support has been provided by JPMorganChase, with additional assistance from the World Bank, Spencer Foundation, Unicef, U.S. Department of Education, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), ICICI Bank, IIIT-Hyderabad, Azim Premji Foundation, and Byrraju Foundation.
The BFI concept has been accepted and adopted by several countries, notably Mexico, Ghana, South Africa and India. The programme has been initiated in South Africa, while in India BFI is being run in the pilot mode in Andhra Pradesh. Various other Indian States that have shown an interest in adopting the BFI strategy.
BFI – India
At the preparatory level, BFI was discussed with the Government of India (GOI) as early as 2000. The National Literacy Mission (NLM) of the GOI, at that time was looking at BFI as a programme of training of literacy workers who numbered several hundred thousands. The BFI model was seen as most appropriate for the NLM’s project of Continuing Education Centers (CECs). Even as these discussions were in progress with regard to the availability of ICT infrastructure at these CECs, the Government of Andhra Pradesh (GOAP) was able to provide ten computers each in 1000 high schools throughout the State for imparting computer literacy to high school students and teachers. In discussions with GOAP, it was determined that there would be great educational potential in this ICT infrastructure if these schools could remain open to the local communities after school hours for literacy and vocational education in AP state.
BFI – Andhra Pradesh
Once the GOAP agreed to making the 1000 high school computer labs available for community learning, ILI (working in close partnership with UPIASI and others) developed a three-strand prototype multi-media software to address 1) the learning needs of out-of-school children (10-22 age-group), called Learning for School, 2) the learning needs of semi-literate or illiterate youth (particularly young women) for life-skills and vocational training, called Learning for Life, and 3) to facilitate the GOAP’s programme of egovernance for the common citizens, called e- Governance. The software module was designed to be fully interactive and therefore, the learners could learn, without a formal teacher, at their own pace. It was decided to try out this experimental multi-media software in Hyderabad to study its acceptability and to measure its impact on the community users.
This experimental phase of BFI was launched in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (AP) in October 2003. By December 2003, it was clear that out-of-school children and young women found the computer driven learning sessions highly motivating. Early indications showed that the BFI model could become a powerful learning tool.
Andhra Pradesh has an ongoing programme of bringing all out-of-school children into the formal school. This has been attempted through intensive ‘bridge courses’, which are designed to prepare these children in the shortest possible time to reenter school. GOAP saw the BFI model as an effective tool for addressing the problem of children who had dropped out of school or had not enrolled at all in order to bring them back to school. The ILI, therefore, decided to limit the BFI focus in AP to address this problem exclusively and develop modules in greater depth and breadth under the Learning for School strand. A BFI team was formed to plan and develop (under the guidance of Professor C.J. Daswani, formerly Professor and Head of Non-formal Education, NCERT, New Delhi, and Senior Adviser, ILI) a series of multi-media modules in Telugu for the out-of-school children in AP. GOAP has contributed by making available the services of four experienced teaching-learning materials writers to work on this team