The year when computers finally reach kids :
|Two international models are ready for roll-out in Indian schools|
— Photo: Carla Gomez Monroy/OLPC by special arrangement.
HANDS ON EXPERIENCE: Children in the local school at Khairat-Dhangarwada, Raigadh district, Maharashtra, get a first look at the XO laptop. Bangalore: More than 200 students from Kerala’s higher secondary schools — and an equal number of teacher-mentors — converged on Saturday on Technopark, on the outskirts of the State capital. Many of them took part in IT quizzes, digital painting contests — and on Sunday are slated for a privileged “mukha-mukham” or face-to-face encounter with the Park’s technology leaders.
This is the biggest-ever Schools IT Festival held in Kerala — the first visible evidence of what nearly half-a-lakh personal computers placed in 2,800 schools (government and private) have achieved by way of e-nabled education in about two years.
Better endowed Interestingly, government schools seem to be better endowed PC-wise: a personal computer for every 72 children against between 91 and 136 in aided or self-financing private institutions.
Other States are less fortunate — and the cost of a PC often creates a ‘digital divide’ within the Indian school system — separating the better-off private institutions from the public education system.
That may change — albeit in small ways — in 2008. For the first time, we have a choice of computing platforms specially designed, for use by Indian schoolchildren.
HCL has started manufacturing ClassMate PC, a “kid-proof laptop,” with special software for interactive classroom applications — and a suite of Made-for-India software from Educomp. The platform with a 7-inch screen was almost wholly designed by Intel engineers based in Bangalore.
While the native design was for a Windows operating environment, HCL has decided to offer it with a Linux flavour if required. The price is around Rs.18,000-20,000 but the current thinking is to offer it as a bundle with wireless connectivity for schools which will add a small amount to the fee. This model is likely to work only in private schools, for now.
OLPC initiative The much-publicised One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative of Professor Nicholas Negroponte’s group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has seen its own school computer, now dubbed the XO, being tried out in a few key markets, mostly in Africa and South America.
The fanless, diskless solid-state storage-based laptop is fuelled by an AMD chip and runs Open Source software only. The unit price is closer to $200 than the initially projected $100 — and while the Indian government has not taken an official view on its deployment here, the XO has in fact reached children in a school at Khairat-Dhangarwada in Raigadh district, Maharashtra.
OLPC volunteers were in the school for a fortnight in September-October this year to help the teacher and children use the machines meaningfully. Their experience has been fully documented here: (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Khairat_Chronicle #Panorama).
Ironically, India’s own affordable PC platform for the masses — the Mobilis — developed for the CSIR by Encore Software (one of the two companies which created variants of the Indian handheld device, the Simputer), is yet to be seen on shop shelves. The government, which unveiled the under-Rs.10,000, Linux-based, laptop-desktop hybrid two years ago with much fanfare has seemingly done little to take the design to production.
Encore is competing with the XO for educational markets in Brazil and elsewhere.
Tools are ready With two, and hopefully three, offerings ready for classroom deployment, India’s more pro-active State governments have the tools at last, to fuel their own classroom revolution in 2008. Non-governmental funding by voluntary agencies is known to be more forthcoming these days — so, money may not be a hurdle. All it needs is the conviction that the time has come to make IT happen for our children.