Tata Consultancy Services’ Adult Literacy Programme: Computer-Based Functional Literacy, India

  • Date published:
    11 July 2019
A group of women in a TCS ALP class © TCS

Programme Key Information

Programme Title Tata Consultancy Services' Adult Literacy Programme
Implementing Organization Tata Consultancy Services Limited
Language of Instruction Nine Indian languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Odia, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu), Arabic and two African languages
Date of Inception 2000
Programme Partners Tata Group; NGOs; National Literacy Mission Authority; the prisons departments of the state governments of India. Some of the NGO partners are Development Focus, Don Bosco Network, Help a Child of India, India Academy for Self Employed Women, Partnering Hope into Action Foundation, South Orissa Voluntary Action.
Funding Free of cost software, technical expertise and funding to NGOs, for programme implementation provided by the Tata Group
Annual Programme Costs Based on the number of beneficiaries reached
Programme Cost Per Learner INR 500 (approximately US$7)
Other Information Running in India and Burkina Faso

Country Context and Background

The 2011 census of India reflects wider global data on illiteracy, with an estimated 283 million non-literate people in the country, 65.46% of whom are women (Census of India, 2011). At the same time, India is undergoing socio-economic growth due to its favourable demographic dividend, with 67% of the population in the 15-65 age group and a median age of 28 years. By supporting the population in the improvement of its literacy skills, and in particular the crucial 15-35 age group, India can derive many further economic and social benefits, as well as benefits for the development of individuals. According to the International Monetary Fund in 2011, creating opportunities for this age group to contribute to the workforce could improve the country's annual growth rate by 2% over the next two decades (Harjani, 2012).

In 1988, India's National Literacy Mission Authority defined 'functional literacy' as acquiring competency in the 'three Rs' - Reading, wRriting and aRithmetic - along with the ability to apply them to one's day-to-day life (UNESCO, 2001). However, the size and linguistic diversity of the nation place huge constraints along the country’s path to increasing national literacy rates. The census (2011) lists 121 different native languages spoken by Indians. Fourteen of these languages have at least 10 million speakers (Census of India, 2011). Other constraints include the time it takes to teach a person to read, write and perform basic arithmetic by conventional methods; high drop-out rates - mostly in lower and upper-secondary school - of 27.2% according to the Indian Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of School Education and Literacy (Government of India, MHRD, 2018); a lack of trained and dedicated teachers, and inadequate infrastructure.

Programme Overview

In order to address the country's low literacy rate, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a multinational information technology and consulting service based in Mumbai, and a subsidiary of Tata Group, devised the Adult Literacy Programme (ALP) in 2000, to augment the Government of India's efforts to improve adult literacy. The programme runs on Tata's Computer-Based Functional Literacy software (CBFL), which uses a combination of methods to teach a non-literate person to read in a short amount of time and makes use of commonly used words in the learner's mother tongue.

The ALP aims to help learners reach functional literacy in 50 to 55 hours. To implement the programme, TCS enters into an agreement with local NGOs and provides financial support to assist in conducting these courses. The NGOs, referred to as funded partners, then execute projects according to the terms of the agreement and its related budget. TCS provides CBFL software to funded partners free of charge - as long as intellectual property rights are maintained - and partners share information about the number of learners reached. TCS also works closely with government agencies, prison authorities and academic institutions to implement the programme in local languages. The courses are provided free of charge to learners.

The Adult Literacy Programme is intended to promote and strengthen adult education, particularly that of women, and to extend educational options to those adults who have lost the opportunity to access formal education and/or are above school age (ie, 15 years and over). Specifically, this means that the focus of the programme has been on non-literate adults in the 15-35 age group, and women (Sakshar Bharat, 2016). The programme is currently being implemented across 18 states in India as well as in Burkina Faso in West Africa.

The ALP comprises a multimedia software package and e-Learning system that helps adults who do not have literacy skills and who speak a native language to learn basic reading, writing and arithmetic. The content is presented via a multimedia puppet show and focuses on individual words rather than the alphabet, with the aim of teaching learners to read and write 700 commonly used words in their native language. The software is currently available in nine Indian languages (Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Odia, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu) as well as in three foreign languages - Arabic, Northern Sotho (South Africa)and Moore (Burkina Faso). This link provides a demonstration of the programme in some of the different languages: https://g01.tcsion.com/dotcom/ALP/demo.html

A sample video of the project

Implementing Organization

Tata Consultancy Services Limited (TCS) has been collaborating for the past 50 years with many of the world's businesses, providing information technology (IT) services, consulting, and business solutions. It has contributed to their transformation journeys by providing a consulting-led, cognitive-powered, integrated portfolio of IT, business and technology services, as well as engineering. This is delivered through its 'location independent agile' delivery model. As part of the Tata group, India's largest multinational business group, TCS has more than 424,000 employees, representing 143 nationalities in 46 countries, and more than 35% of its associates are women. TCS's proactive stance on climate change and award-winning work with communities across the world have earned it a place in leading sustainability indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), MSCI Global Sustainability Index and the FTSE4Good Emerging Index.

In the past decades, it has used its technology skills to develop the Adult Learning Programme to help increase literacy levels in India and some African countries.

TCS Adult Literacy Programme

Programme Development

The idea of a computerized programme to tackle India's low literacy problem was the brainchild of the former deputy chairman of TCS, Faqir Chand Kohli, who is regarded as the father of the Indian software industry. Kohli believes that information technology allied with innovation can accelerate the spread of literacy in India, and a corporate-wide initiative was launched in 2000 resulting in the Adult Literacy Programme powered by Computer-Based Functional Literacy. Initially it took a team of four people several years to develop multimedia programmes in different languages. The trial run was carried out with basic personal computers at a local community hall in Beeramguda village (which had electric power), in Andhra Pradesh, in March 2000. The facilitator of the trial programme knew the local community well and the village head provided administrative and infrastructural support to make this pilot a success. Fifteen learners took part, in self-learning groups.

The team observed each session carefully and fine-tuned the learning modules and process at every stage. Soon, an interactive animated show replaced the simple slideshow. The learners took to the multimedia lessons well and made steady progress. They were able to read a Telugu newspaper in just eight to 10 weeks. When the experiment concluded, many in the group were able to read newspapers at a speed of 10-12 words per minute. The fast learners could read 15-20 words per minute. While the standard duration for the attainment of literary competence is 200 hours, this result was achieved with only 35-40 hours of learning. Moreover, it was cost-effective - the total cost of the pilot programme came to just USD 6-USD 7 per student. In all, the Beeramguda experiment turned out to be an effective pilot and a tremendously satisfying experience for the TCS team.

It is not just the CBFL programme's components that are unique, but also the thinking behind it. Standard adult-literacy projects that teach reading, writing and arithmetic require trained teachers and classrooms, and anywhere between six months to two years to complete (NLM; Planning Commission, 2014). The costs and drop-out rates are often high as well. These programmes tend to fail because of a lack of trained teachers and the inability of people to spare the time to attend class for such a prolonged period.

CBFL, however, blends the organization's expertise in the creation of software with exemplary research done by the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA) to overcome some of these issues. Since the programme is multimedia-driven, it does not require trained teachers. This results in a reduction in the cost of eradicating illiteracy. CBFL also focuses on a very specific outcome - that individuals who have undergone the programme acquire a 700-word vocabulary in their own language, which provides them with enough knowledge to participate in and complete everyday activities, such as reading destination signs on buses, straightforward documents and even newspapers.

Multimedia was chosen to present the drafted lessons, as it could be easily delivered via a computer. The experts at TCS decided to deliver the learning as 'infotainment'. To take the focus away from the daunting hardware, and to attract and motivate learners, the team explored local folklore and traditional forms of entertainment. They found that the village puppet theatre was a familiar and comforting metaphor, and thus it was used as the visual theme for the curriculum.

Aims and Objectives

Through its Adult Literacy Programme, TCS aims to achieve the following objectives:

  • To promote and strengthen adult education, particularly of women, by extending educational opportunities to those adults who recognize the need for basic learning but have passed standard school age and can no longer access formal education
  • To stimulate learners to participate in activities in their daily lives where language skills are required
  • To contribute to the efforts of the Indian Government to accelerate the rate of adult literacy nationwide through technology

Target Group

The target audience for the ALP is working adults of 15 years and above among 'Affirmative Action' groups, i.e. women, minorities, etc. who speak their own native language but do not know how to read or write (Fullinwider, 2018). The programme is aimed particularly at poor, illiterate women, and individuals who face discrimination based on their caste, creed, ethnicity, religion and gender. In an effort to take the initiative to different sections of society, TCS has also been implementing CBFL technology in correctional institutions. The programme has been rolled out to assist in the rehabilitation of 70,000 inmates in Indian prisons including the largest complex of prisons in South Asia, Tihar. It has been further scaled to reach inmates in the jails of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, West Bengal and Delhi.

Programme Implementation

Since the Adult Literacy Programme was set up by Tata Consultancy Services in 2000, results have shown that it takes approximately 50 hours of instruction to guide working adults through the complete course, spread over 12 to 15 weeks. Currently, the programme has been implemented across 18 states in India, and in Burkina Faso. It is designed specifically for, and is implemented by, partner organizations that are trained to complete the process with learners in the various states and countries.

Programme execution depends on collaboration with local governments or NGOs for effective implementation. This localized approach enables local organizations to set up and manage centres themselves after training is completed. TCS provides the centres with programme software and a local instructor, known as a prerak, is trained by TCS to use both the equipment and, most importantly, the software. Preraks then conduct classes, using a computer, for groups of 15 to 20 students (per class session). No large-scale infrastructure or significant training of preraks is required.

As well as teaching software and multimedia presentation materials, centres are also provided with printed material and primers by the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA). Specifically, these are primers produced by State Resource Centres (SRCs) in respective Indian languages that have been approved by NLMA as incorporating their methodology.

Classes run for one-and-a-half to two hours each day, five to six days a week, for about three months, and are adapted to local community needs. A key aspect of the programme effectiveness is that the multimedia format ensures that participants learn a standard pronunciation of the words/letters accurately through the system, rather than learning exclusively from individual preraks.

In order to improve and maintain the consistency and effectiveness of the programme, TCS has developed detailed guidelines for organizations and centres that are interested in implementing and conducting the programme. They covers the requirements, framework and process that the organization will need, and are as follows:

Programme establishment

Firstly, a baseline study is conducted first to ascertain the literacy rate in the selected area and identify the special literacy needs and levels of the target population. Secondly, recruitment of preraks to conduct the classes is launched, targeting those with familiarity with the local environment, possession of a High School Leaving Certificate (10th Standard or above), and computer literacy (those with basic computer knowledge). Next, potential learners are identified, with a special focus on women and the weaker sections of the local community, for example, Scheduled Caste (SC)/Scheduled Tribe (ST), and minorities (Nath and Parakandathil, 2015).

During that process, a cluster approach is encouraged, so that teaching and maintenance support can be shared across centres and, as a result, monitoring is manageable. By the same token, organizations are discouraged from having centres spread across a vast area (not easily accessible from each other). TCS will train trainers or people from the implementing organizations who will then conduct the programme across a cluster of centres in the same field area. Finally, a formal stage of the process is undertaken before the programme begins, during which expectations are communicated and the importance of regular attendance and consistency are emphasized.

Capital resources

It is important to mobilize the community to encourage awareness, enthusiasm, and participation of learners in the classes. In addition, the choice of venue for conducting classes should be accessible to the learners, well ventilated, have an electric supply, a table for placing the computer, and adequate space for 15 to 20 people to sit comfortably. Where power is unreliable, centres must use an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) or spike guard.

Likewise, reading and writing materials should be distributed to learners, for example, each participant must be given a notebook and pen. Also, primers should be procured from State Resource Centres (SRCs). Subsequently, as the course progresses, relevant reading material such as pamphlets and newspapers should be given to learners for reading practice. Newspaper readings can be introduced after the first part of the primer is completed.

Relevant materials can be prepared or sourced by the implementing agency for testing the participants' reading skills. Appropriate content may include health awareness, food and nutrition, water conservation, sanitation, education issues, consumer awareness and book-keeping. The implementing organization should also prepare work-relevant material for members to read and practise with after completing the unit. This can include information on health and best practices for their working activities, information on their entitlements, and so on. All this will help learners to practise the habit of reading.

Class Structure

Class timings must be fixed in consultation with the participants. Classes must be held at scheduled times on pre-determined days. In addition, a CBFL class can have one hour of computer-based teaching followed by half an hour of practice (revision time). Classes need to be held five to six days a week with a minimum gap between classes, for a period of at least three months. One chapter of reading must always be followed by a chapter of writing.

Class Procedure

Above all, it is important to maintain regular class attendance. For this reason, a register should be taken and attendance recorded at the beginning of every session. Moreover, before commencing a new class, brief revisions of lessons from the previous class/classes must be done to ensure continuity and retention. For writing practice, learners should begin by writing familiar words or phrases in notebooks, for example, their name, names of family members, and so on. This will increase participation and build their confidence. Literacy, especially for new learners, is very fragile and must be reinforced after completion of the unit. During classes, periodic visits from supervisory staff (from the implementing organization) are recommended both for monitoring and motivating participants. Learners should also be encouraged to take the government's biannual National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) examination for adult learners. Certification by the Government of India would be a motivating factor for participants. Completion of the programme means that the entire village or selected location has been reached, and 100% literacy has been attained. The next step is to move on to further target groups.

Teaching - Learning Approaches and Methodologies

TCS based CBFL, its innovative teaching method, on the power of technology combined with the theory of cognition and laws of perception. CBFL uses animated graphics patterns for easy visual and auditory learning and achieves functional literacy in approximately 50 learning hours. The combination of visual graphics and the repetition of sound patterns results in improved recognition, retention, and recall of words.

The cognitive process is three-pronged. While reading, cognition takes place (a) directly through the recognition of graphic patterns, (b) indirectly through sound patterns, and (c) inferentially through feelings and sensations. Based on the organization’s previous research regarding computer-based teacher assisted learning apparatus for imparting reading skills, the team at TCS understood the variables in thought processing that influence optimum understanding, and so designed learning modules that introduced and reinforced a pattern in those variables. The topics covered in the learning material are related to the 'three Rs' of functional literacy, i.e modules are designed to target the areas of reading, writing and arithmetic.

In order to achieve its goals, the programme uses a combination of teaching formats including software, multimedia presentations, and printed materials. Supplementing computers in this process are reference textbooks or primers from the National Literacy Mission Authority (NLMA). TCS has adopted the NLMA approach and many of the NLMA primers into its courses, as these primers are widely tested, readily available, and highly usable. However, while the NLMA courses require more time and resources, as well as dedicated and well trained teachers, the CBFL courses speed up the learning process through scientific, cognitive and pedagogical learning models based on cognition, language and communication, and adopt a 'systems' approach (Kerzner, 2017). The puppet theatre model and animated rural folk play teach the learners using a format and content they are familiar with.

A CBFL centre in Bhagatpur, India, May 2016

Programme Content (Curriculum) and Teaching Materials

TCS has adopted the approach of building on the work of other organizations, rather than reinventing the wheel. The ALP course, which uses puppets as the motif in the teaching process, has been designed from material developed by the National Literacy Mission Authority, which was established by the Indian government in 1988 with the aim of eradicating adult illiteracy in the country. The mission's lessons have been well researched and formulated, and are tailored to fit different languages and even dialects. The CBFL model adapts the majority of NLMA primers directly into its courses. Traditional NLMA courses require more time and resources than the 50 hours required by the ALP, as well as dedicated and specially trained teachers. Therefore, the ALP speeds up the learning process using scientific knowledge of cognitive and pedagogical learning models.

Specifically, the project employs animated graphics and a voiceover to explain how individual letters combine to give structure and meaning to various words. The lessons drawn from the NLMA primers are designed using the 'eclectic' approach, where each new letter is introduced as part of a commonly used word. A story is woven around a group of words; pictures, drawings, and exercises are used to reinforce what is learned. In order to provide students with further options and activities, the programme has been significantly enhanced through the development of a mobile application and customized solutions for tablets and eBooks. These added resources are electronic versions of the NLMA primers and are intended to support the reading of a continuous text in sentences and paragraphs.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

In order to effectively implement the programme, the preraks are trained by TCS volunteer facilitators. The concept adopted is 'Train the Trainer' and the methodology is well documented and closely followed. The training takes two days, and preraks receive hands-on experience of the software as well as instruction on training methodology, tips on mobilizing learners and keeping them engaged, and other information. Basic computer skills, navigation, browsing, and troubleshooting are also taught. Preraks also receive the following process documents: Standardized Adult Literacy Programme Manual; Data Bank of Monitoring Questionnaire (Monitoring and Assessment), and various checklists. By means of these documents, the programme has transitioned from a people-centric to a process-centric mode.

The preraks invited to teach ALP classes should be computer literate, preferably have leadership experience in a local community group, and have completed High School (10th Standard). Preraks are paid by the respective NGOs - approximately INR 4,000 per month for conducting two sessions of 1.5-2 hours each, five days a week.

Enrolment of Learners

Innovative strategies are used for community mobilization. The partner or implementing agency first carries out a baseline study to ascertain the literacy rate in the selected area and identify the literacy needs and levels of the target population. For this, they launch a major social motivation and mobilization campaign to promote the benefits of literacy, with targeted strategies that take the context of the local area into consideration. The message is conveyed so forcefully that the issue of literacy will become part of the social discourse and motivate low-literates, especially women, to take part in learning. The creation of such an environment is necessary as demand for literacy does not exist uniformly in these locations.

A multi-pronged approach is then taken to bring awareness of the organization to the community, and relay information on its location, target audience, objectives and expected outcomes. This approach includes print and non-print media such as posters, pamphlets, songs, cultural programmes, puppet shows, street-corner plays, wall writing, road shows, rallies, and meetings at strategic public locations.

Following this mobilization drive, the partner organizations (e.g. NGOs, prison officials, etc.) identify and prepare a list of learners. In particular, partners identify adults over the age of 15 years, who are non-literates or school dropouts and have relapsed to illiteracy. A Pre-Literacy Test is conducted before learner enrolment, and this is checked and verified by the partner organization. There are several groups that need to be identified: homogenous groups, non-literate members of SHGs (Self Help Groups)/focused groups, females belonging to SC, ST and minorities, and other special groups. Learners who meet this criteria are then invited to attend the classes.

A CBFL class in session October 2017

Assessment of learning outcomes

The progress of each learner is maintained through TCS Progress Monitoring, which uses MS-Excel and HTML-based Progress Monitoring software tools to aid partner organizations in capturing learners' attendance and progress. These tools are used by instructors in the local centres and log the attendance and progress of each individual learner in regard to their literacy status. The data is held electronically by the preraks and can thus be shared with their respective supervisors through email.

Individuals who participate in the programme are encouraged to partake in basic education tests conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) so they can be declared to be functionally literate after completing the programme. These tests are done biannually and lead to certification by the Government of India, which is often a motivating factor for participants.

The course curriculum is designed with a unit test after every three lessons. So, a learner takes about eight tests from each primer during a batch period. Furthermore, TCS volunteers conduct periodic visits to monitor the running of the programme and provide feedback. They also conduct a final assessment, based on an internally designed test, in association with the implementing organization. The learners are assessed on these tests and grading is awarded accordingly. The assessment takes three hours and is prepared by the respective preraks in consultation with the programme supervisors. TCS volunteers also help the preraks and supervisors in conducting these tests as part of the assessment. Learner assessment is therefore a process of ascertaining the outcomes of the programmes based on two factors: (i) the proficiency level attained by a learner in achieving literacy skills, i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic, through a written test and (ii) the empowerment experienced through participation in the programme. A maximum of 150 marks is awarded across the assessment as a whole, with 50 marks available for each skill. A successful participant will be awarded a joint grade sheet - a certificate of NLMA and NIOS as designed and developed by NIOS.

Monitoring and Evaluation

TCS performs monitoring and evaluation of the programme on a regular basis. TCS associates who come forward as volunteers conduct periodic review visits - at least once a quarter - of CBFL centres to assess the effectiveness of the teaching, interact with the learners, and monitor the progress and effectiveness of the programme overall. During these visits, the volunteers conduct an evaluation test to assess the knowledge and understanding of the learners. This test consists of interactive questions asked of the learners, preraks and NGO coordinators and supervisors, and is supplemented by a field observations list. The volunteers provide suggestions for improvements to the process and the support provided, which they feel would increase the effectiveness of the ALP sessions. More importantly, they perform an assessment of each learner to monitor their progress in functional literacy skills, followed by an exit test. Monitoring and evaluation is done using standardized questionnaire templates for the volunteers and test materials used for evaluation purposes. TCS ALP leads and volunteers then discuss their observations and address queries at the implementation centres.

The implementing NGOs also share feedback on a monthly basis with TCS, via a prescribed format. The feedback is related to the number of beneficiaries reached, villages covered, outcomes, challenges, etc. The NGOs also provide feedback through impact-based case studies along with pictures and testimonials. The NGOs have an option to provide feedback directly to the website (https://g01.tcsion.com/dotcom/ALP/feedback.html) or through a prescribed monthly feedback form.

NGOs actively participate in the evaluation process too. They also help TCS collect feedback through its Data Bank of Monitoring Questionnaire tool, which was developed by TCS for use during the monitoring phase, thus making it easy to capture and maintain data.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Impact and achievements

Because of the extensive reach of TCS, and the ease of using a computer learning system, the programme has been able to reach a large number of learners. In the past two financial years, the influence of the programme is as follows: in 2018-19, the programme reached 365,411 beneficiaries, an increase from the previous year (2017-18) when there were 173,876 learners. Since its start in 2000, the programme has reached than 950,000 learners (as of June, 2019).

The achievements of the programme are measured in terms of Reach, Outcome, and Impact (ROI).

ROI is an indigenously developed evaluation tool, which uses digital means to capture data for reach and services provided. Outcomes and impacts are captured through tests and case studies. ROI enables the company to quantify social good through:

  • Reach: the extent to which programmes and services have reached the community and its people
  • Outcome: results that have occurred because of the programme
  • Impact: measurements of changes in overall well-being

TCS volunteers follow ROI questionnaires when they assess each learner during their periodic review visits to the batches at ALP centres.

As far as Reach is concerned, as of June 2019 more than 950,000 individuals have completed the programme since 2000, with an emphasis on women, beneficiaries from Affirmative Action strata and inmates from prisons and correctional centres, as a reformation process. (The learnings and assessment mechanism for inmates is the same as that of regular learners in a typical centre. However, the frequency of classes for inmates may differ. In addition, the instructors have to keep inmates motivated to sustain their interest.) TCS has so far implemented the programme across 18 states, covering rural and tribals population of India.

As far as Outcome is concerned, a person participating in the programme becomes functionally literate after the completion of 50-55 hours of classes.

The Impact of the programme is explained below through the benefits for learners, preraks and the wider community.

The benefits for learners:

Parameters Impact Created
Mental A general increase in confidence owing to improved verbal, written and numeracy skills; increased confidence in decision making; enhanced self-esteem. These are measured through case studies and metrics designed by TCS
Socio-cultural An increase in status within the family unit; greater motivation to encourage and ensure children’s attendance at school; an increase in participation in family decision-making and community activity
Physical An increase in mobility (the ability to visit the bank, travel by public transport, etc.)
Economic An improvement in general finances; greater confidence in taking loans/utilizing banking services due to a better understanding of numbers; increased participation in economic activities such as SHGs (Self Help Groups); greater participation in skill building activities
Political Participation in village leadership with increased awareness of government policies on health, education, etc.

Testimonies and Impact Stories

Impact Story - Kaliben Mansingh Rathore

Kaliben Mansingh Rathore, one of the participants of the ALP in the small tribal village of Chandra Shekhar Azad Nagar, block of Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Kaliben lives with her husband, children and grandchildren. She has always wanted to be literate but could not fulfil her wish due to financial and social issues. Kaliben was married at an early age and became busy with her family. She was very happy when one of the programme's partners started the CBFL programme in her village. Her childhood dream to be literate was fulfilled, but it was not easy for her. She faced many obstacles when she started attending the classes. However, Kaliben had strong determination. She fought these challenges and attended classes regularly.

Now her world has suddenly become different because she is able to read and write words. Her family is now supporting her and are proud of her. She teaches the words and letters to her grandchildren when their parents go to work. She is now able to travel by herself to any place independently. Her confidence level has increased a lot.

'I fulfilled my childhood dream through the CBFL Programme - I am no longer dependent on my family members and can travel alone from one place to another. I also teach letters and words to my grandchildren for which my daughter-in-laws are proud of me.'

Impact Story - Seema Devi

Seema Devi is a 25 year old from the Bhuriyawaas village in the Alwar district of Rajasthan. She has never attended a formal school. After marriage, she came to Bhuriyawaas, where her husband works as a dairy farmer. If he had to go somewhere urgently, she could take on the entire workload of the dairy, but was unable to write records in the transaction diary and had to constantly seek help from her neighbours. Seema recalls that before the ALP she was completely at the mercy of others since she could not read or write. After attending lessons the excitement of gaining literacy would follow her home, where she would sit with her children and continue her learning together with them. Owing to the use of laptop technology and innovative software programmes that teach at an easy pace, with a focus on functional literacy as opposed to the conventional approach, the project has been able to achieve an expansive reach in this region, with most women of the household participating in the project. Today, propelled by the literacy classes, Seema actively contributes to her family income. Not only is she capable of maintaining the records at the dairy by herself, but she also successfully monitors the progress of the school work of her two young children, aged six and eight.

Impact Story - Asha Devi

'How would you feel if you stepped out of blinding darkness and into the light? That is what the gift of literacy does to you', says 45-year-old Asha Devi of Narayanpur, Rajasthan.

As a young girl, Asha did not pay much heed to her parents' efforts to send her to school. However, as she grew older she started to perceive the handicap that illiteracy brings.

She was always interested in stitching but since she could not take accurate measurements, clients would often complain of ill-fitting clothes and she could never really establish herself as a tailor.

When the ALP was launched in Asha's village, she seized the opportunity to educate herself.

Today Asha runs a tailoring centre at her house and offers a training course of up to two months. Taking five students at one time, at a charge of INR 1000 per month per student, she has an assured monthly income of INR 5,000 over and above the profit she generates from stitching clothes for her regular clientele.

The programme implementation has also provided the facilitators with a number of benefits. These are listed below.

The benefits for facilitators:

Preraks receive various benefits in return for their work. They are respected within the family and community, and their family members come to understand the value of education and are more motivated to learn. They obtain a source of income from their work, as well as the satisfaction of doing social good by being a change agent. They also receive a boost in confidence and self-esteem, as their work and contribution is recognized and appreciated. Finally, preraks learn teaching skills which could create more opportunities for them.

It is also recognized that there are multiple benefits for communities when organizations promote literacy in their area. TCS has made an impact on many communities with its ALP programme.

The benefits for communities:

A general improvement in literacy skills leads to increased awareness in the areas of health, sanitation, education and the consideration of government policy. In this way, skills learnt by individual participants are disseminated amongst others, creating a learning community and a shared interest in literacy. It can also help in the formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs) and an increase in the participation of individuals in community economic improvement activities. This may positively influence other community members who are still non-literate, thus leading to a ripple effect.

Four international papers have been published on the programme and its results. The Adult Literacy Programme and Computer Based Functional Literacy software have also won several national and international awards.

Awards and Recognitions:

  • 9th India Digital Awards in the category of Digital Social and Economic Empowerment Awards for Best use of Technology to Drive/Execute CSR Initiative, 2018>
  • Social and Business Enterprise Responsible Awards (SABERA) in the Responsible Business category, 2018
  • Project Management Institute (PMI) India 2018 award under Project of the Year: Contribution to Community category
  • IBM Beacon International Awards Financial Year 2017 for Outstanding Community Service
  • Certificate of Merit at the National Convention of UN-GCNI FY 2016
  • TATA Innovista - Semi Finalist FY 2016
  • Global CSR Excellence and Leadership Awards 2014 in the category of Education & Training: Social Enterprise
  • CSR Awards for Community Development for FY 2013-14 from Hyderabad Software Enterprises Association (HYSEA)
  • First ITsAP Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Award 2012
  • Highly Commended Coffey International Awards for Excellence 2011 from BITC, UK


Environmental, economic and social challenges:

The process of developing and implementing the ALP has not been without challenges. Many learners come from impoverished communities that are economically and socially excluded, and/or culturally backward and politically disregarded, which makes it harder to persuade them to participate. Other challenges include migration related to crop harvesting (monsoon cropping season), in which the learners migrate to different areas in search of a livelihood and are therefore unlikely to attend classes. Tradition and cultural factors also affect rates of participation. Many tribes are unavailable during the festival season, while some minority communities look unfavourably on regular attendance at adult centres. In order to reduce drop-out rates, these challenges have been overcome by creating awareness and making learners understand the importance of education. In many situations, sessions are organized to accommodate learners' availability in consultation between the centre and facilitators. During classes, preraks emphasise the importance of education using social, economic and religious examples.

Communication challenges:

Apart from funded partners, implementing organizations do not have a proper reporting structure in place in terms of documentation and records. It has been a challenge to receive monthly/quarterly feedback from them on time. TCS has helped them by creating a link in the programme website to elicit feedback in a structured manner.

Collaboration challenges:

There were several mistakes made in the deployment of the programme vis-a-vis mobilization and monitoring, due to delays and interruptions caused by obstacles in the field. Classes had to be cancelled for many days in the case of a death in the family or for festivals. The monsoons also caused problems, with leaking centres and flooded roads. Other issues included an erratic electricity supply, unmotivated instructors and badly located centres. In jails, inmates on trial did not always complete the course as their terms could be unpredictable and short. In Burkina Faso, where TCS does not have a presence, collaboration had to be managed through the single point of contact of the programme partner. In all these situations, the issues were resolved by connecting with partners and through periodic review visits to CBFL centres.

Trust challenges:

As the programme trains young adults from remote villages, there is a lot of apprehension and mistrust among family members, villagers and community members. The family members of women preraks are reluctant to send them for training outside their local areas. Numerous regular meetings with all stakeholders, and counselling sessions for family members, are held to overcome these issues.


Since it was launched, the ALP programme has been run like a professional project with all the required processes in place, from the identification of implementing partners to the performance of due diligence, proper documentation (manuals, standardized reporting templates for NGOs, volunteers, etc.), survey and field visits, training, monitoring and evaluation, feedback and reporting and so on.

Therefore all stakeholders - learners, neo-literates, instructors and organizers - are motivated to sustain the literacy drive to and beyond the next level, after completion of the unit. The literacy imparted during the three-month programme is reinforced in the form of continuing education, to prevent learners from relapsing into illiteracy. These learners are linked to Post Literacy Centres (PLCs) established at village level and run by preraks. The PLCs provide a number of services including a library and reading room. Learners are also encouraged to participate in short-term thematic courses to be held at PLCs. Another important intervention by the programme's partners to sustain the efforts of the project is the formation of Learners' Clubs for each learner's batch. All participants become a member of a club that continues to meet even after the project cycle is over. The learning process continues in these clubs, although the prerak does not attend. The club provides a platform for discussion on various topics related to education, health, agriculture, housing and social issues according to the needs and interests of the members. It acts as a platform for sharing ideas and voicing opinions thereby encouraging greater participation in improving the effective functioning of the village, as well as slowly breaking down the barriers that separate people within the community.

Consequently, this innovation has led to many breakthroughs in the project. This has enabled TCS to extend the application of such technology to other initiatives under its skills development programme. Going forward, TCS aims to reach more beneficiaries. Various NGOs have expressed their desire to collaborate with TCS. TCS also intends to enter into agreements with new partners for greater proliferation of the programme, by extending its reach in rural and tribal areas. So far, the enthusiastic response from governments and NGOs is a testimony to the viability and sustainability of the program. CBFL can be a key driver to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 as envisaged by UNESCO.


Nath, B. and Parakandathil, P. 2015. Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in India and their higher education. Research Gate. [online]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303942282_Scheduled_Castes_and_Scheduled_Tribes_in_India and_their_Higher_Education [Accessed 15 August 2018].

Census of India. 2011.Language. [pdf] India. Available at: http://censusindia.gov.in/2011Census/C-16_25062018_NEW.pdf [Accessed 20 May 2019].

Ali, M. and Mandaleeka, N. 2013. The cybernetics of human cognition and adult language learning. Available at:https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/6722417[Accessed 15 August 2018].

Harjani, A. 2012. India's secret weapon: its young population. [online]. Available at:https://www.cnbc.com/id/49472962 [Accessed 4 June 2019].

Kerzner, H. 2017. Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling. New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons.

Mayer, E. 2005. The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning. New York. Cambridge University Press

Ministry of Human Resource Development , Government of India. 2018. Educational Statistics at a Glance. Available at:https://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics-new/ESAG-2018.pdf [Accessed 1 July 2019].

National Literacy Mission, India. n.d. Scheme of support to non-governmental organisation in the field of adult education. [online] Available at: www.nlm.nic.in/ngos_dtl.htm [Accessed 20 May 2019].

Planning Commission, Government of India. 2014. Adult Literacy & Continuing Education. [pdf] India. Available at: http://planningcommission.nic.in/plans/planrel/fiveyr/10th/volume2/v2_ch2_6.pdf [Accessed 20 May 2019].

Fullinwider, R. 2018. Affirmative action. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [online] Available athttps://plato.stanford.edu/entries/affirmative-action/ [Accessed 20 May 2019].

Sakshar Bharat Mission. 2016. Welcome to Sakshar Bharat. [online]. Available at: http://www.saksharbharat.in/ [Accessed 4 June 2019]

UNESCO. 2001. NLM, UNESCO and Literacy. [Website]. Available at:http://nlm.nic.in/unesco_nlm.html [accessed 15 August 2018]


Khusru S. Mistry
Head, Adult Literacy Program
Maker Towers, E Block, 11th Floor, Cuffe Parade
Mumbai 400005
+91 22 67789171/ +91 22 67789191
Company website: www.tcs.com
Programme website: www.tcsion.com/alp

For citation please use

Chatzigianni, Sofia. Last update: 11 July 2019. Tata Consultancy Services’ Adult Literacy Programme: Computer-Based Functional Literacy, India. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 8 February 2023, 02:37 CET)

PDF in Arabic

Related Documents