11 January 2011

Proposal Development

When I applied for the ORCA last October, I wrote that my purpose is to assess the degree to which Tibetans living in exile in India are digitally literate, the ways in which their culture manifests the effects of digital literacy, and the potential for increased digital literacy to improve their situation.  Since that time, my research query has come to have three components in my mind: first, how is Tibetan digital literacy unique as a result of their unique circumstances, second, what relationship does digital literacy have with the Tibetan goal of cultural preservation, and third, how are Tibetans in India using their digital literacy to forward their political goals.

Literacy is intimately related to schooling and my major is English teaching, so I've usually envisioned my project taking place within the TCV.  After all, American children are naturally digitally literate, a trait that becomes supremely evident when you compare those children to their grandparents.  I would venture that the same is true of Tibetan children, though it would be very interesting if the age roles are reversed.  I learned, though, from asking some Tibetans that students have very limited access to computers.  They have computer classes in school from a young age, school computer labs, and I imagine they use internet cafes as well, but they don't often have home computers or daily classroom exposure to technology.  How, then, is their digital literacy different?  Also, why do we think digital literacy is crucial to improving education?

From my understanding, Tibetans in India have two primary goals.  The first is to preserve their culture as they live away from their homeland.  Tibetan culture--the script, language, faith, traditions, and history--is, of course, precious to those who live it and valuable to the world at large.  I am uncertain as to the effect of digital literacy on this fundamental goal.  On one hand it certainly facilitates communication among all the Tibetans across India (though Norbu told us that they use telephones to communicate with family and friends in Tibet) and thus keeps Tibetans united while in exile, but it also creates a global culture that seems to diminish variations between cultures while encouraging common ground like speaking English.

Finally, Tibetans have a political agenda with the ultimate goal of regaining their homeland.  Here, the potential for digital literacy to help with their goals is clear and powerful.  Reaching a sympathetic world audience means gaining clout in the political sphere.  Here, I think my research would primarily consist of observation of trends that are already moving quickly.

So, with that said, here's my three-part research question (always open to revision):

How is unique digital literacy evident in the TCV school, and how does this literacy relate to Tibetan goals of cultural preservation and political victory?

Photo credit IMs BILDARKIV

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