India has about 700 tribal groups throughout the country, called “Scheduled Tribes.” For students coming from these rural areas, the journey from tribal lands to bustling urban cities can seem challenging: Especially when it comes to technology.
To help with this transition, the IEEE Computer Society (CS), along with KIL-Kotagiri, sponsored the IEEE Learn-Compute Camp 1.0, hosted at Kengari Panchayat Nilgiris, Govt Higher Secondary School 23-24 June 2023. Enabled by a grant from the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Fund of the IEEE Foundation, this camp was established for the Kotas, an ethnic group indigenous to the Nilgiris mountain range in Tamil Nadu, India; future camps will be dedicated to other tribes around the country.
The thinking behind the program
The goal of the project was to bring pre-university students from tribal public and private schools together to address the resource sharing gap and to highlight the significance of job development in computing technologies. Parents and teachers from tribal public and private schools also joined the camp.
“The first camp was basically to give awareness of cyber-safety and how these pre-university kids can use social media, Internet, and email more safely than before,” said Ramneek Kalra, cloud support engineer at Amazon Web Services, and program lead for the event.
In addition to bridging the gap between tribal- and city-based university schools, objectives of the camp included:
Bringing social innovation via numerous technological stacks to students at pre-university schools
Providing mentorship and hands-on learning opportunities from technology leaders; as it was a tribal group, English was a secondary language. The camp offered mentorship support in their local language (i.e., Tamil)
Explaining the importance of technology to parents and teachers
The Camp kicked off 23 June with an introduction by Kalra and Ramalatha Marimuthu. Nita Patel, the 2023 IEEE Computer Society President, delivered a keynote focused on the critical necessity of bridging the education gap between tribal communities and urban areas. Her speech highlighted the importance of providing equal opportunities and access to education for all, regardless of geographical or socio-economic barriers.
During the first day of the Camp, Lalitha Rajendran, a senior operations manager at Amazon Web Services Support Engineering, led a session about “Internet: Exploration with Safe Hands.” This presentation revolved around the critical aspect of ensuring a secure and safe online experience while navigating the vast landscape of the Internet.
During the talk, Rajendran emphasized the importance of implementing robust security measures and the best practices to safeguard users from potential threats such as cyberattacks, data breaches, and privacy infringements. She highlighted the essential role played by technologies like firewalls, secure protocols, encryption, and authentication mechanisms in establishing a secure foundation for internet exploration.
“By leveraging these advanced technologies, users can protect their sensitive information and fortify their online presence,” she added.
In addition, Rajendran stressed the significance of user education and awareness in maintaining a safe online environment. She discussed the importance of cultivating safe browsing habits, recognizing phishing attempts, and adopting strong password practices.
“By empowering users with knowledge and promoting responsible online behavior, we can enhance Internet security,” she said. “Through leveraging cutting-edge security solutions and fostering a culture of cybersecurity consciousness, individuals and organizations can confidently explore the internet while effectively mitigating risks and safeguarding their valuable information.”
A crucial part of the camp incorporated student teams and presentation; the goal was to facilitate focused problem-solving and collaboration. The organizers divided the participants into groups, with each team given a problem to solve. Mentors were allocated to each team, and scenarios included, “COVID Vaccination awareness using the Internet,” “E-Learning Platform Ideas,” and “Health Care application on Internet.” This phase involved meticulous research, data analysis, and thoughtful visualization techniques, and the teams then presented their approach to a panel of judges.
“During the presentation preparation phase, the students showcased their creativity and knowledge by crafting remarkable presentations. They effectively conveyed their research findings, supported their arguments, and highlighted key insights. The use of charts added a professional touch to their presentations, making them both informative, visually impressive, and conveyed their proficiency in data visualization and dedication to deliver impactful messages through engaging visuals,” said Kalra.
Inspiration for the future
The second and final day of the camp wrapped up with closing remarks from speakers, chief guests, teachers, and students. Winners of the presentations were announced and awarded stationary and notebook materials. And finally, speakers thanked the mentors, volunteers and the committee who had worked hard behind the scenes.
“By understanding the challenges, seeking support, and embracing diversity, students can navigate this transition successfully,” said Kalra. “With determination and knowledge obtained from camps like this one, pre-university students can thrive in their new urban environments and build a bright future.”
Kalra continued, “I believe this camp was fully managed and organized in a good manner to focus on the right objectives: Internet safety awareness to the tribal pre-university students and teachers. The connection in their local language was helpful and we learned to be more precise and innovative by collaborating with more tribal groups together via nearby areas whenever possible. We are planning to have it as an annual event.”
Transitioning from tribal lands to urban environments can be a tricky yet transformative experience for pre-university students. The potential rewards, however, are many—for example, personal growth, exposure to new ideas, and a broader perspective on life.
Kalra wants IEEE CS members to understand that there are many opportunities to embark on outside your own region, and the Diversity and Inclusion Fund Grant they received made a big difference in the project, including motivating teams to expand their thinking to unexplored areas and groups, and using technology to do good in the world.
“We can make people aware of what technology is all about and how it can be used for the benefit of humanity,” he said.
For more information on Diversity and Inclusion initiatives or to donate to the Fund, visit computer.org.