Wednesday, June 15, 2005

IT in rural areas

A post on karthik's blog discusses about a computer kiosk established in the slums of Delhi. The kids learnt to use the computer without any guidance in a few days.

But should the government spend money on improving the IT infrastructure in villages when the basic infrastructure is lacking? No doubt spreading the information is essential, but there are more cost effective ways of doing this: For example Krishi Darshan on Air India and Doordarshan provide comprehensive information regarding the weather, prices and so on to the farmers.

Similarly the government spends lakhs of rupees (or any big IT company funds) on providing a few PCs to a few schools, but is the PC so essential, when there are schools which lack buildings and teachers?

Your comments

11 Comments:

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous Sanjay M said...

I feel the PC is esssential if used properly. Lets face it, a PC is hopelessly addictive - the evidence lies in the fact that Im typing this comment at 1 AM in the morning! So using it properly would mean succesfully directing this addiction towards learning. What most attracts a kid about a computer? No prizes for guessing - its games. HP Labs used to have regular seminars, and one of them presented this idea - if we could make a user interface as a game, things would be much more intuitive for the user. And taking that further, if we could club learning with games - I feel it would be worthwhile.

Whether its worth the investment or not I have no clue, but I feel the governemnt is better of spending money on this than on a minister (and familys) foreign trip ;-)

 
At 1:04 AM, Blogger kattricker said...

I think its precisely because of lack of basic infrastructure that many NGO's are trying the IT way especially for education. And in many cases they have been successful in getting government investment also. I think IT infrastructure investment and basic infrastructure investment can go independently. In many cases, IT infrastructure investment is cheaper with better yeilding results and easier management (like the Hole in the wall). Its also more social and accessible than conventional methods.

I agree with you that basic infrastructure must be the government's priority, but since we have seen it perform rather badly (we can talk about the red tape), IT may hold the key to bridging the urban-rural divide.

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger NGM said...

Yes PC is definately a more advanced and fun learning tool.I do not have a clear idea about the costs, but it is toss up between say providing a hundred blackboards and a few rooms and the PC. But as suggested we have to consider the relative learning from a PC and few rooms and blackboards

 
At 4:52 AM, Anonymous Sanjay M said...

tried to address the cost issue but wasnt as succesful as it hoped to be, but there will be more attempts. Anyway the cost of conventional PCs have come down drastically as well.

A PC can only be a supplement to classrooms and blackboards, and most importantly a human teacher.

About learning through PCs, again there are risks that it may well end up becoming just a tremendous addiction with arcade games - I have actually seen this happenening. It has to be used only in a controlled environment, though the granularity of the control of course is situation dependent.

There is also another important factor which I dont see many people considering at all: eyesight - a lot of kids in the US wear glasses at a very young age, and I hope that it will not become the same case in India. There are other health risks like back problems and tendonitis. Kids are meant to play outside, not sit in front of a computer.

This is another reason why though I'd advocate a PC for learning, it has to be really in a cautious and thoughtful way.

I would recommend a PC more as an aid to the teacher where he can present things on a projected screen - the advantage over a blackboard would be he could be using information from diverse media sources to better illustrate the point. For example images, video clips, powerpoint presentations, animations (for eg to represent a biological process or perhaps even a mathematical equation) etc. And once something like this for a subject is prepared, it can be reused in subsquent classes.

(Actually this is a major research topic that I hopefully will end up getting into some day!)

 
At 4:54 AM, Anonymous Sanjay M said...

ugh should've previewed...! republishing comment...
simputer tried to address the cost issue but wasnt as succesful as it hoped to be, but there will be more attempts. Anyway the cost of conventional PCs have come down drastically as well.

A PC can only be a supplement to classrooms and blackboards, and most importantly a human teacher.

About learning through PCs, again there are risks that it may well end up becoming just a tremendous addiction with arcade games - I have actually seen this happenening. It has to be used only in a controlled environment, though the granularity of the control of course is situation dependent.

There is also another important factor which I dont see many people considering at all: eyesight - a lot of kids in the US wear glasses at a very young age, and I hope that it will not become the same case in India. There are other health risks like back problems and tendonitis. Kids are meant to play outside, not sit in front of a computer.

This is another reason why though I'd advocate a PC for learning, it has to be really in a cautious and thoughtful way.

I would recommend the PC more as an aid to the teacher where he can present things on a projected screen - the advantage over a blackboard would be he could be using information from diverse media sources to better illustrate the point. For example images, video clips, powerpoint presentations, animations (for eg to represent a process or perhaps even a mathematical equation) etc. And once something like this for a subject is prepared, it can be reused in subsquent classes.

(Actually this is a major research topic that I hopefully will end up getting into some day!)

 
At 11:35 PM, Blogger NGM said...

I feel it is sure worth the research sanjay

 
At 4:58 AM, Blogger Gops said...

Narasimha,

Regarding the NIIT experiment, I don't think the government was involved in any big way...the idea behind it was to see whether it is feasible to demonstrate PCs to 'under-educated' kids. In that sense, I think it was a success.

I don't agree with "But should the government spend money on improving the IT infrastructure in villages when the basic infrastructure is lacking? ". First off, the kind of changes a PC can bring into a community is tremendous. Look at the HP-photosmart camera story. Also, placing a PC would propel the demand for infrastructure - for example, don't you need power to run the PCs? What better way to get it than have a solar powered battery? Or a genset that is powered by honge oil? I think the sight of a better life would make people want it for themselves...and given the right solutions, they would also be able to get there.

To conclude, I don't think it is a question of either PC or buildings. Schools need both. It is also not a question of not having enough money for both. DH had once reported that the Corporation spends Rs.10,000 per year per student on infrastructure alone. So, money is there - how it is utilized is the issue. That needs fixing - once that is done, there will be both buildings and PCs for India's children.

 
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