How this Kerala MP is using public libraries to help rural, tribal children get access to education

CPIM's Rajya Sabha MP Dr V Sivadasan recently kickstarted an initiative called NetWork to bridge digital divide among Adivasi students
Dr V Sivadasan (Pic: Facebook)
Dr V Sivadasan (Pic: Facebook)

Kannur has quite a few specialties, Dr V Sivadasan tells me. "While Kerala has around 8,000 libraries, more than 1,000 of them are in Kannur itself. There are a number of reasons behind it and it is majorly linked to the farmers' movements and their involvement in the Independence struggle," he says proudly, about his home district. So, in June, when he got elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha, he knew that libraries are the way to go about uplifting the most underprivileged people in the district.

Sivadasan, along with the local body representatives of different panchayats in Kannur, have just begun NetWork, a project to ensure that the tribal children in the most underdeveloped parts of the district access online education - at an uncertain time like this. While a lot of these initiatives stopped with distributing mobile phones and tablets to students, Sivadasan acknowledges that that cannot be the end of it. "You cannot ensure that a student attends classes by just giving them an electronic device. They must know how to use it and should have the technology and facilities to charge the device and access the internet," he says. This is what sets NetWork apart. Along with the help of the local body representatives, Sivadasan's team is ensuring that these students who receive the devices go to the libraries closest to them, where they get to access resources via the internet, seamlessly.

M V Govindan Master distributing tabs (Pic: Facebook)

And therein lies his masterstroke. "We are ensuring that libraries become hubs for social development. This is the way forward," says Sivadasan. He says that MV Govindan Master, Kerala's Minister for Local Self Governments has also extended his support to the project. "He had previously promised Rs 1 Lakh per library in the state for its development. This will benefit the project well," he says, adding that a number of libraries could use infrastructural development.

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Govindan Master had, in fact, distributed the devices to the Adivasi students of Kannur in different phases. While Sivadasan says that over 400 tablets have been distributed until now, more work has to be done. "We have to cover more numbers of students. The young team of students, researchers and self-help groups that are volunteering with me are working towards collecting more data and crowdfunding money. Also, around 10 panchayats, in the most underdeveloped parts of the district have none or few libraries. We are working towards creating more libraries here, not just for students to learn, but for people to have a safe public space," he adds.

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