Discussions over Tea (Of course, cutting maar ke)

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

THE 'ONE' NATION : Here comes the real IT boom

Disclaimer: A slightly longish, though extremely pleasing post.
Do you remember all the times when I have raved and ranted about IT development in India being restricted to the educated and middle classes? Turns out, India is out to prove me wrong. And I gladly accept.

In the past two days, I've read two articles on how IT is being used in rural India for the education of the masses. Article # 1, Wiring up a Knowledge Revolution in Rural India speaks about "An IT project in southern India is empowering low-caste village women, helping them net information on everything from grain prices and cataract operations to the Iraq war. ". Here are some of the pleasing excerpts of the article -
  • A group of 15 women, some of them from the so-called untouchable castes or Dalits, operate the computers, collate and present data.
  • Villagers get information on all kinds of situations and problems - weather, crops, livestock, health, everything. (They) have even mediated disputes.
  • One example of a valuable application has been the availability of the list of people below the poverty line (BPL), secured and uploaded by the nodal team at Villianur. Being featured in it provides access to government schemes for the poor.
  • Every household in Embalam now has an insurance policy - a national life insurance scheme subsidized by the Central government of which the villagers had no knowledge before.
  • The project had to overcome initial teething problems such as abuse of infrastructure and political interference from local parties.
  • Declares a volunteer in the Embalam center, T. Amirtham, 35, and a mother of four daughters, "The men in our community first looked at us with jealousy. Then it became envy. When we first started, we would automatically stand up when a man entered this room. Not anymore - we are more confident and respected. That's the way I want to raise my daughters."

Article # 2, India�s Illiterates Get a Magic Wand speaks about "a project by India�s premier software giant, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which if it can find the right partners and hit critical mass, India�s 300 million illiterates could be converted into productive individuals who can read signboards and perhaps even the simple text of a newspaper in less than 40 hours of learning-time". The pleasing excerpts of this article are mentioned below -
  • The software giant TCS is using low-end computers to take out the monotony from teaching, piggy-backing on the initiatives already undertaken by the National Literacy Mission, and treating adults very differently from children when it comes to teaching them.
  • The goals are to give a 300 - 500 word vocabulary to learners in their own languages. Five major Indian languages are currently covered by the software. Many more are waiting to be done. This skill could enable India�s illiterates to read a simple newspaper.
  • Claimed advantages of this approach include - Acceleration in the pace of 'learning to read' (it takes about one-third of the time that writing-oriented methods require), flexibility in adjusting to individual learning speeds, lower dropout rates in comparison with other adult literacy programmes, it can be conducted on computers with configurations as low as 486 (these are the kind of machines that many organizations can afford to give away). and it does not require trained teachers or large-scale infrastructure.

The pleasing aspects of these endeavours are that they're working at a grass-roots level and aren't intended towards hitting rural India with the whole nine yards. Also, they have been able to overcome the apprehensions of villagers and the resistance from politicians to gain a foothold into India's progress.

End of Post

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