Changing the conversation around digital literacy among teachers, libraries and young people in India

5 minutes read | First published: March 22, 2023
Hosting What the Future Wants workshops and engaging young people in
discussions. Courtesy of The Community Library Project.

Tactical Tech interviewed digital literacy educator Ashkumar Gopalani, leader of the Voices of What The Future Wants in India project, who shared insights into the project and the collaboration with Tactical Tech.

Voices of WTFW in India is a project developed in partnership with the Free Libraries Network, Community Library Project and Next Page Foundation. The partnership with Tactical Tech had three goals:

  1. Translate the materials into Hindi to increase, at least partially, the accessibility of the What the Future Wants materials to young people in India;
  2. Promote the What the Future Wants exhibition among librarians and educators in community-based libraries across India as an interactive and accessible educational resource to improve digital literacy of young people;
  3. Host What the Future Wants exhibitions and workshops for young people in underserved communities in Mumbai, New Delhi and Gurugram.

Young people engaging with an interactive poster. Photos courtesy of Next Page Foundation.

Tactical Tech: How do you imagine a different digital future?

Ashkumar Gopalani: The work for a better digital future has to be done in the present, or else we are failing the young generation. The digital future must be fair, equitable, accessible, safe, inclusive and kind. We are far from that. In fact, they are quite the opposite.

For instance, India is among the most unsafe countries for women and the LGBTQ community. That has translated into the digital world as well. In this context, media and digital literacy education are intersectional and can raise conversations about identities, narratives, bias, the meaning of privacy, etc. But unfortunately, this topic still faces stiff challenges to be relevant in schools.

TT: What is the project's mission?

AG: My biggest concern in India has been religious polarization and violence. As a Hindu, I have seen the radicalization of people I have known from my religion for years. Educated and privileged people have spread hateful messages on social media and WhatsApp groups justifying acts of violence. I see more and more young people fall prey to hate, normalized in their own homes and in the media they consume. Through the education of media narratives and helping young people be more aware of the algorithms which dominate or will dominate their lives, I hope that those I engage with do not easily fall for these messages. Logo courtesy of Media Net

TT: Could you share some insights into the collaboration with Tactical Tech?

AG: The partnership has been extremely beneficial. I have tried to conduct media/digital literacy programs in schools, but it was an uphill task. Nobody was interested. I had a project in mind to work with libraries, but I needed financial assistance. The collaboration with Tactical Tech ensured that this project saw the light.

On the other hand, the resources that Tactical Tech created in digital literacy are highly engaging. The curation of content and topics for the exhibition and clear-set instructions make knowledge transfer easy. Tactical Tech exhibitions have helped me be a better listener of the youth. It allowed them to express, and for the first time for most, thoughts about their devices, technology and society. These young people are brilliant minds, and this partnership has acted as a catalyst to channel their thoughts, creativity and critical thinking.

I have focused mostly on media literacy, so teaching digital literacy is a skill I have honed. After this project, I feel more confident in engaging with young people. Educational exhibitions are not a commonly used mode of education/learning, but this project helped me and the libraries gain experience in such teaching/engaging methods.

TT: What essential collaboration results would you like to highlight?

AG: The most important result is that expert digital literacy resources have reached libraries in India. These libraries cater for communities where resources are negligible; people are marginalized. Hence, that makes conducting such programs even more crucial.

Another important result is the creation of a global collaboration to bring this project together. In my opinion, such collaborations are crucial to building a just digital future. It allows for smarter resource allocation and enables the formation of global partnerships with different capabilities.

TT: How did your project and the partnership make a difference?

AG: We have worked with over 110 people – young people, librarians, teachers, and adults to build critical thinking and digital literacy. An e-seminar with other libraries will enable knowledge sharing about WTFW exhibitions with them.

Hosting What the Future Wants workshops and engaging young people in discussions. Courtesy of The Community Library Project.

TT: Why is it essential to continue these collaborations and partnerships?

AG: Topics such as media or digital literacy are not as common in India. There is a dearth of expertise, knowledge, resources and information. However, this does not mean that the need does not exist. There is a far greater need, and to fill the gap, such collaborations are indeed necessary.