e-Learning in Primary Education – An Indian Perspective

The Annual Status of Education Report (2016) points that learning levels remain depressingly low across the country, while 97% of children (aged 6-14 years) across rural India are enrolled in a school, only 13% of the children in grade 2 can read from their language textbooks. Current scenario becomes worrying given the status of quality of education.

The reasons for this state of affairs vary from infrastructure to availability of qualified teachers, from pedagogical to gender biased approach. Though there are many aspects which need to be addressed but amongst them the student-teacher ratio remains an important factor which affects quality of education. In many areas a single teacher is found teaching multiple classes which is not an exceptional arrangement but has become a routine affair. Upon that one can easily see the wide range of variance, at one end we have urban students competing at the global level and on the other hand there are rural students who lack basic infrastructural facilities such as school building and sanitation facilities.

In the context of student-teacher ratio and other factors affecting quality learning of students, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) finds a unique place to bridge the challenge. In the contemporary global telecom workspace, India is one of the leading players. In terms of its quality of internet and its affordability, India has the best tariff plans globally, thanks to the domestic competition.

In my childhood, cartoon characters like ‘Tom and Jerry’, ‘Mickey Mouse’ were a choice for urban well-to-do children. In the contemporary time, Indian characters like ‘Choota Bheem*’ and ‘Doreman**’ have not only reached every household but have made themselves an integral part in children’s life. I have seen many instances in the recent times where children have started learning ‘Choota Bheem and Doreman’ before learning ‘Papa and Mama’.

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Small things behind a great website

It is nice to do great work, but important to share the good work so that people can know about it and the success finds its avenue for further replication,” said my boss long ago.

Appropriate communication is very important for effective mobilization of resources, building awareness and replication of successful initiatives.

When it comes to communication, website has been the most effective means of communication due to its reach and accessibility. It represents the organization on the Internet and by virtue of its wide accessibility it makes an organisation global.

First and foremost thing when it comes to website is that you do not know who is going to view your website. S/he may be a potential donor, a job seeker or any other web user redirected from a search engine looking for something else. Therefore, it is important to keep the language simple, universal and free from domain specific jargons. This needs to be applied for the home page and immediate subsequent pages such as “About Us”, “Focus Area”, “The Team” etc.

Another important thing is to communicate the programme area and institutional programme vision in addition to core strengths. This will help people understand the organization. It is also important to have a clear distinction between programme areas and projects. Projects may fall under more than one programme area; but having a defined programme area is always useful not only from an external perspective, but from an internal one too.

Gone are the days when websites used to have a top and left navigation bar resembling the site-map that used to link user to the programme areas, projects and other information. Intuitive design is the trend of the time, where the most important things are depicted on the home page and option to collaborate using social media are up-front. Good optimized photo brings its obvious value in putting institutional perspectives in place.

It is often seen that the email ID(s) given on the website is not maintained well, and in many organizations, it is checked only once in a week or a month. It is crucial to manage and maintain this account with care. Having it redirected to admin or communication in-charge can be useful from an operational angle. Also, spam-cleaning the account in regular interval is necessary otherwise you will realize after some time that 90% emails received are spams.

The website is the online presence of the organization on the web so the design and content need to be with the same spirit. If the organization is into research, then it would be good to have some research papers uploaded on the website. If it is an advocacy organisation, people by default will look for a campaign. Remember, a website is not merely a couple of pages on the web – It is your organization on the web.

Many a times, it is difficult to find the mailing (postal) address in a very well designed website. Very often, it is also found at the bottom in small font, in “About Us” page or in “Media and Press” sections. It is recommended to have a “Contact Us” link up-front with other navigation items. It is better not assume for others particularly the web users who are not known to you.

Social networking and collaboration is used in left, right and centre in all possible places. While the power and value proposition of social channel can’t be ignored, the balanced use is expected on a website. Slideshare may be used to host presentations, You Tube for videos and social channels such as Google Plus, Facebook and Twitter may be used for large scale communication and engagement. Placing your office address in Google map can be very helpful, and it is also instrumental in web promotion.

“The Team” page is quite useful for people visiting the website. For external users, it is helpful in knowing more about the organization by understandings people and their strength. Having photographs of the team members can be very useful. In case you have the team page, keep the page updated after every employee joining and leaving the organization.

Be careful when the website is migrated to new platform/ Content Management System/ Hosting. This is the time when maximum content is lost and de-linked, which is quite counterproductive. Having an external review of the website is very useful and should be done after a regular interval.

Once you have a website and you see it every day, you can miss to present the most obvious things. After all, the website is meant for people who are outside the organisation and the whole world is competing to get a pie of their valuable time.

ANDROID FOR SURVEY

It was middle of a mobile based survey project. We needed an android phone with satellite GPS, Indic language support and relatively a big screen in a competitive price. We ran around for a week in all shops including the well established ones. But, unfortunately, all these features are not found in one device.

While returning from a shop in New Delhi’s Nehru Place, where the person was cutting the normal sim card to make it a micro sim card for a tablet, my colleague Ram told, “Drupedi had to marry five men in search of all the best possible human qualities.” I understood his frustration arising from the disappointment of not getting the desired model. I thought of documenting this experience in the hope that this will be useful for people like me in choosing the appropriate phone for survey.

We had no plan to take a high-end mobile brand like Samsung, as the cost was beyond the scope of the project. In my last project, we had used Micromax android phone and it worked quite well except for the battery problem in some sets—there was no replacement available in the market. Drawing from my past experience, I bought a Micromax A 45 punk mobile phone.

We tested the set but to our utter surprise, we found that it does not have the satellite GPS; it only obtains the A-GPS by using the mobile network. Apparently, A-GPS works great in urban areas, but in rural areas, it has very high variance due to lower density of mobile tower. However, this mobile does support display of the composite character of Hindi/ Marathi character sets properly. I checked other mobile phones in this range and all have the same features.

My obvious choice then was Karbon. I spoke to the sweet talking lady in the customer care for 45 minutes. During the call, she transferred the call to two more persons, who were from the technical side. But the only tangible thing I managed to gather was a distributer in Lajpat Nagar and their phone number. I was required to go to the shop to explore further. Thanks to the customer care, if you have a mobile phone and you fill random coupons in mall, your communication skill in English could improve!

We went to a Karbon distributor to explore further. We found that all android phones are available below INR 10,000, but do not have the language support. However, these phones have good GPS and great volume. The young gentleman sitting in the counter promised that he will fix the problem of language display the next day and suggested us to come with cash to buy the phone. With my limited technical knowledge and multiple try in the past, I was not very hopeful of him fixing the problem. Without any other option, I was forced to rely on him and our indigenous innovation. The next day, I went to the shop but our friend was not there. He was busy in a marriage. He referred us to one of his colleague, who simply said it is not possible.

Near to the Karbon shop, we checked the android phones of other brands in the same price category. We found that it does support the Indic character set and displays all in a rectangle box. I was quite disappointed and started exploring how to install font and have some compliance. But after referring to many group and install almost 10 patches, I realized that if any product is not supported by the manufacturer, it is difficult to get it working.

Next morning, I went to Samsung store and realized that almost all its models support all features except S II, which is less than INR 9000. On way back to my office, I saw a HTC store and found that HTC models that cost around INR 8000 fortunately supports multilingual and true GPS. They are within our extendable range. The only disadvantage is that it does not have the big screen as compared to Karbon and Micromax phone.

The grid below summarizes the details for the benefit of techies.

Thanks for reading.

By Kedar Dash

Reaching out to the Mud Hut

Technology has always opened new ways and means of making life easy. It has its impact on almost all the sectors of life and the economy, but the major concern is about its easy reach and accessibility to the common people. Technology should focus on the effective and efficient delivery of basic needs of food, water and shelter.

In the past decades, information technology has undergone substantive improvements, which are crosscutting through different sectors. Though it is a great success so far as the technology is concerned, but at the same time it has only addressed the more urban setting. The impact is more visible at the apex of most initiatives and not the grassroots.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is one of the several, major, new technologies, which are having an impact on the socio-economic system, especially in the developing countries. The ways in which people, organizations and governments deal with ICTs and understand their current impact is an important issue for its effective utilization. If the emerging technology is not able to address the fundamental problem (which is the basic amenities of the common man), there is much to be lost, than won. In a developing country, this is one of the basic problem areas, which leads to a digital divide rather than the creation of a digital bridge.

Unlike other technologies the Information Technology is not addressing the problem at its grassroots level but is acting more as a catalyst. ICT is facilitating to promote and disseminate ways to be able to cope with the more basic issues and problems.

In order to address the basic needs of the rural people of a developing country like India, the following need to be addressed.

Resources and infrastructure

There is a great potential for ICT in rural development, and in a country like India the rural people and even the middle income groups face resource constraints. These constraints should be bridged through initiatives from the voluntary sector and through active community participation. In this age of corporate social responsibility, more and more corporate houses should get involved in addressing this issue.

Connectivity

Connectivity is a major issue for the application of ICT in development so far as rural India is concerned. Many villages in India still do not have access even to functional telephone lines. The quality of the lines reaching other villages is not efficient enough to transmit data. The disturbance in the telephone lines is a major bottleneck in communication. At the same time, the process of getting the telephone lines is extremely tedious due to lack of proper infrastructure and access to information. There are some other technologies available, which make life easy in such situations, like the VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal). A VSAT is capable of supporting Internet, data, LAN and voice/fax communications. This technology is useful for geographically dispersed areas and in places where proper infrastructure is still not well established.

Connectivity increases business options in two directions – mainly from rural to urban and vice versa. The corporate sector in India has understood this concept and is aiming at the large market potential and is laying fiber optics network in different parts of India and, very soon, the connectivity would no more be a problem for the implementation of ICT for development.

Customization of information for the specific user group

Implementation of technology needs inputs from the entire geographical spread of the Indian sub-continent, which has inherent differences – ranging from the disparities in the economic conditions of the households to the availability of the natural resources. This allows for an efficient customization of generically available information. Today, we find many sites provide ideas about setting up of micro enterprises for sustainable agriculture, but needs area specific customization so as to provide value for the common people at the grassroots. In the Indian subcontinent where diversity is immense and at all scales, customization of content plays a major role in ICT for development. Information packaging should be driven by the user demand.

Multilingual feature

In a developing country like India, it seems to be impossible to address the rural masses without having an interface in the language they understand, which creates the need for a multilingual interface.

“Multilingual Systems” refer to computer programs, which permit user interaction with the computer in more than one language. Typically, a multilingual system permits the user to interact with computers in their own mother tongue. Such a system will have a far reaching impact in our country, where English is not spoken or understood by majority of the people living in areas away from urban environments.

Delivering information throughout the world requires a particular multilingual attention as far as software is concerned but considering human factor is also a must because the software system can not handle the grammar as well as the language. Therefore, a good management of multilingual system capitalizes on both the human factor and the translation tools.

Conclusion

Information being the key to empowerment, it is vital to adopt all the above said measures to empower our rural folk who form the weakest link of the chain called India

This article is published in Development Alternatives Newsletter, May, 2002

By Kedar Dash

WSIS calls for a safe digital world for children

Geneva: Children are our future and we need to create a safe environment for them in the digital world. This is a global concern that deserves global attention and action. This was the voice that rang out on the opening day at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) that began on Monday.

Recent years have witnessed the substantial impact created by the catalyzing role of ICT on development. But while its potential for social good is undisputed, it has also raised new and disturbing issues, especially where children are concerned.

Child pornography content is a multi-billion industry today. Violence in computer and video games is increasing day by day. In addition, there is an increase in behavioral addiction of children towards computers. In this very context it is needless to say that we cannot simply be a silent observer.

There are various global initiatives that currently combat this issue. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with its partner has started an initiative called Child Online Protection (COP) to deal with this serious issue. They are working to develop a guideline for various stakeholders i.e. Government, Industry, parents, educators and children. Microsoft and Canadian Government have developed a tool to trace objectionable content for children in the web.

“This is a trans-boarder issue and we have to move above politics in the best interest of our children and best interest of our future,” said Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General, in his concluding remark of the day.

Hear the ITU Secretary-General’s message

The strength of ICT needs to be seen in the best interest of humanity. At the same time awareness generation at various levels is critical in this fight. Multi-stakeholder partnership can help face a challenge of this magnitude. Appropriate regulation at national and international levels is also the call of time.

By Kedar Dash

Also published in Digital Opportunity Channel

Cyber Security: A must for ICT for Development

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are on the way of revolutionising our lives and society. They are playing a catalytic role in reaching out to common people and transforming everybody’s life through various tools and communication mediums.

In this context it has also become important to consider the security and the privacy aspect of information and communication technologies. This was echoed as a global concern in the WSIS Forum 2009 that was held in Geneva from 18-22 May, 2009.

The strength of ICTs in terms of its impacts in speed and scale is being used by unscrupulous elements to cause much damage in the cyber world. The threat of this damage is not just from viruses and malware. It also includes inaccurate and misleading information, fraud, theft and forgery, which exist online just as they do offline.

Organized crime has been on the rise as the internet provides a low risk but convenient platform for cyber crimes. There is also lack of harmonization, standardization and coordination in national and regional legislation between countries, which makes it difficult to trace the criminal.

At the WSIS Forum, participants from all over the globe emphasized building international cooperation to deal with the critical issue of cyber security.

The Global Cybersecurity Agenda (GCA) is an initiative started by International Telecommunication Union with partnership with various Government and international organizations to create a platform that will combat cyber threat at various levels.

The GCA is built upon five strategic pillars:
1. Legal Measures
2. Technical and Procedural Measures
3. Organizational Structures
4. Capacity Building
5. International Cooperation

Internet being a democratic technology, the threat to it will be a part of forthcoming technological evolution as well. This problem has to be tackled with coordination and partnership of the highest standard, across all stakeholders and across the global level.

By Kedar Dash

Also Published in Digital Opportunity Channel

A Thought on Climate Change

Probably, Climate Change is the biggest challenge in the human race, may be well attributed by its global reach, impact on various section of the society and unpredictable magnitude of consequences. It is the very challenge, from where there is no escape but to fight. It will be a prolonged fight that human society needs to fight at various levels for their self and for the generation to come.

The very existence of modern world is a result of many cycle of climate change; Climate has been changing and will keep on changing. The eahth is capable of dissolving all carbon emitted to the climate in the sea with a small span of time.

One School of thought advocates that the human induced climate change is accelerating the climate change; The other puts the issue is a multidimensional cause-impact and scenario matrix, which brings more confusion than clarity .

While the scientific facts and causes are subject to argument and perspective, the immediate chhalenges posed by the changing climate is impacting the human being; and it is substantial.
There are evidences to prove this across the globe and call for urgent adaptation at all levels ranging from individual to nation and certainly beyond. The adaptation to climate change has to be a continous as the climate is changing continouly.
This concern is taken seriously by Government, Civil Society Organisation, corporate and various research institutions. Every section is trying to put their best to deal with it; a collaborative approach of working together is the way to address this issue.

 

Climate change is a global issue and it need to be negotiated with a open mind for the betterment for the place where we live, before it is too late.

By Kedar Dash

The 18th Day

It was the 18th Day of Mahabharat War. Tired Duryodhana(दुर्योधन) was resting inside Padma Sarobar (The Lotus pond). The Pandavas(पाण्डव) were eagerly looking forward to close the devastating war by get rid of the last man, the root cause.

They went to the padma sarovar and Bhim shouted at him for hiding and not adhering to trend of the worrier culture. After listening all harsh words, Duryodhana came out and invited the pandava to fight; In response Yudhisthira,s the eldest pandava offered him to fight with any one of the pandavas and promised that if he can manage to defeat him, he will accept his defeat and give the kingdom of Hastina to him.

Duryodhana looked at Yudhisthira. His face was full of frustration and but quite confident. He smiled carelessly and said, “Who will see me be the king. I have lost my ninety-nine brothers ; Dushasan – my obedient brother is not there; Karan – My dearest friend is no more; My Uncle (Mama) Sakuni – who used to be the source of my inspiration has left for ever. What will I do with the kingdom, the wealth … They are quite meaningless. So even if I win, there is nothing left in for me to enjoy.

The fact is very true in our life. The success and failure only make sense if we have the people to share with us. In their absence it is absolutely meaningless.

There is a friend of mine, who hardly calls me. I do not remember when he last called. But, I find it always prompting from core of my heart to call him to share what I am doing.

One day I thought why am I so eager to call him. What is so special about him? I have no expectation of any kind from him, I am not impressed with his personality or any of his quality – But I call him and Trupti, My wife makes fun of me.

After thinking for couple of days, I realized that he is the person who was my college room made; we have shared a three year of our life together in college hostel, dreaming about the brightest future that we would have imagined at that point of time.

Life is all about companion. Cheers…

By Kedar Dash

Bridging the GAP using mobile phone

Enriched information and effective communication have always played a crucial role in development and have created avenues for innovation at large. Be it enabling effective governance or creating opinions for social causes, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have managed to put their foot print wide and larger.

Take recent examples of the Arab Spring or the London riots or the summer of anti-corruption unrest in India, ICTs have managed to amplify local causes of public interest beyond national borders, making the issues truly global.

Internet penetration in India and counterpart developing countries started in the late nineties, and today has found mainstream place in most urban areas, adding qualitative betterment to peoples’ lives at large. There are ample instances where we use internet in our daily life, like in booking train/ flight tickets, accessing matrimony services, and referring to Google while teaching our children.

There was another paradigm shift in this regard when mobile phones were introduced to the masses in India by creating conducive government policies and opening up the domestic market. During this time there were quite a few optimistic ideas of empowering the poorest and the most neglected by using ICTs and building bridges in service delivery.

The fascination of integrating mobile with internet has spurred a many discussions and debates amongst the intellectual masses. But the potential to reach the unexplored market at Base of Pyramid (BoP) is yet to be demonstrated in scale.
If we see the root cause, it seems there is a lack of capacity to develop & customize web-mobile applications at various levels, along with an inadequate framework to support the same. Simply speaking, a Civil Society Organisation based in a remote place cannot think of developing a mobile application for mass awareness on a social cause, or to provide contextual adaptation knowledge on climate change.
The good news however is that this is becoming possible, and for ICTs there is a ray of light in the near future so far as bridging of heterogeneous tools and techniques are concerned.

Android, an operating system and development framework for mobile devices is emerging in potential to break this barrier. Unlike other mobile Operating Systems, it is not difficult to learn. It is an open-source framework with a convincing degree of quality control mechanisms in place. And the most interesting fact is that it may be deployed in mobiles costing less than INR 5000 (Around 100 USD).

Using Android Framework, applications are working on GPS enabled android mobile phones to monitor sanitation behaviour of rural people in India. The data collected comprise of behavioural information on sanitation, with photographs, and latitude and longitude details, which get transferred to a central server using GPRS connection without any delay.

In case the GPRS network is not available, it resides in the mobile until the connectivity is established. A copy of the same remains in the sqllite (A light-weight database) mounted on the phone for future reference and editing.

In traditional research or field survey, the data collected from the field takes months to be represented in an actionable format to the policy maker. And many a times the research finding becomes irrelevant due to this delay. OneWorld’s mobile innovation for data collection looks promising in this regard to bridge such critical time gaps, while enabling greater accuracy.

I always believe, technology if engineered properly, proves to be quite instrumental in facilitating development. This simple innovation reinforces the same.

This story is also published in Eldis and may be seen at http://community.eldis.org/.5a305d9c .
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By Kedar Dash
Katwarai Sarai, New Delhi
Author may be contacted at kedar dot dash at gmail dot com

Good morning … Tatkal

The calling bell by the maid was the awaking call in the morning. I got up and instantly realized that we need to go for railway ticket booking for my in-laws. As planned a day before, I made my wife leave the bed without any further delay. We both decided to go for the booking as there is a dedicated ladies queue. Booking ticket using tatkal services at 8 AM is something that everybody should try at least once in their life time. I am sure it will give you immense pleasure of your patience and will also enforce your believe that life with family is no less meditation than that of a yogi.

We started our mission in the chilled winter of Delhi in January using a auto rickshaw. The driver as usual refuses to use meter. Probably, this time he had a good reason to say that he can not drive auto as per government fixed meter in winter. Me and my wife started in the auto at 6:30 AM in the morning. I was covering my nose with the monkey cap and inhaling the hot moist air of my mouth. The winter in open auto rickshaw was a good enough punishment for anybody.

We reached Sarojini Nagar railway booking counter at 7:10 and I was quite happy to see there were only three women in the ladies queue with the hope that we will get the ticket in 15 minutes and I will be able to reach office in time. My wife stood in the queue without further delay and I started looking out for the reservation form. I got it quite quickly and than started filling the form. Suddenly my wife left the queue and called me. To our surprise, we got to know that the photocopy of identity card of traveling passenger is required to book the ticket.

“Ohhh…” something which came out of my mouth by default.

“what to do now..” Trupti asked.

“Let me check with some more,” I said as I had the recent experience of AIIMS, where a gentleman gave a good piece of knowledge to leave the queue so that he can avail the ultrasound test service.

I went around asking few people about the new rule of photocopy in the complex process and to my surprise, most of them seemed to be aware of this. With utmost disappointment, we returned home. I was thinking of going to a Internet cafe as I had left the data card in the office. I reached home and started calling my junior colleague of my previous jobs to request for a ticket booking.

The first one said that his internet data card was just over last night and could not manage to send his CV to a prospective employer. The second one was quite brave to say that he slept last night late and was not feeling well enough to book a ticket. The Internet connection of the next two people were also not working. The fifth person, who is a system admin guy gave me a very good reason that there is a fiber cut in South Delhi and nowhere it would be working.

I was quite disappointed with the behaviors of my old colleagues. I was introspecting while walking to the internet cafe. I was searching for a cafe after three years in Delhi as I had internet connection all the time and to my surprise most of the cafe were closed at 7:55. Three years ago, there was cafe every where and student living in hostel used to stay the whole night in internet cafe for obvious reasons. Apparently one of them is a coaching centre, two of them are gym. Thanks to open telecoms policy (big scam) which made internet connection affordable to households.

Finally, I found a cafe in one of the corners of the village. When I entered, to my surprise there was only four persons in a 30-seater internet cafe. I purchased a coupon and started logging in. The railway booking website opened at 8:25 after waiting for 30 minutes. By that time I had checked my personal and official email account twice. I logged in and entered the passenger details and selected the payment gateway.

“You are being redirected to … ” Message got displayed. My pupil size increased with the hope that I will be able to book the ticket now. But the astrologer again proved to be right that if you work for 100 you will get 70.

“Session expires……..”, I started remembering the story “the old man and the sea”.

Closed Internet explorer and opened Chrome with a hope that it will do better. Sent an SMS to my new Boss “Will be late .. Busy in some personal work” and instantly got a message OK.

By the time I managed to enter ticket details for the second time, it was 8:56 AM.

“Beep… Beep.. Please save all your work, your time will be over in next five minutes.” The computer screen displayed the message.

“Boss .. one more coupon” I gave 10 more rupees and give it to the cafe boy. By the time I entered the coupon, the computer was logged off.

“Back to square one…” Started cursing myself for not extending the timing before.

Finally after 30 minutes of taking the second coupon, finally I had the ticket. I was quite happy that I was able to book the ticket. I was quite cool by that time and was realising the reason why all my old colleagues were giving technical reasons for not booking the ticket and the fact they are people with helping attitude. We have given blood to the needy in the past. So the moral of the story is, ask for a bottle of blood, you will get it easily, but not a tatkal railway ticket booking.

I was thinking of my first ticket booking in 1998 in Rourkela, I went to the railway station with Sushant and Probir and got the ticket. Two piece of paper, one was a small card (something that we get while checking weight in railway platform) and the other one was a carbon copy of white paper. Life was cool..

Now after 15 years, With broad band.. online booking…tatkal …

My attention was brought to focus when my mobile vibrated.. Three SMS, one from ticket booking, one from credit card and the last from my wife “Get half KG tomato”

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By Kedar Dash
Katwarai Sarai, New Delhi
Author may be contacted at kedar dot dash at gmail dot com