Connectivity and quality access to ICTs is essential for survival in this era of digital revolution. Mahabir Pun foresaw this in 1997, when due to his immense efforts his mountain village of Nangi in Nepal first embraced computers. A simplistic website connected his village to the digital world bringing along a large number of foreign volunteers to support his cause. The project had a humble beginning with donations of used computers from Australia, Singapore and Malaysia and several design topologies for wireless connectivity being tested, details here (all with help of volunteers). The computer was assembled into a wooden box integrating the discrete components. This was the beginning of digital age for students in Nepal.
By now, his initiative has evolved into Nepal Wireless Networking Project which has connected around 42 villages in rural Nepal through wireless technologies, creating new opportunities of education, agriculture, Tele-medicine and E-commerce for the villagers providing them with an opportunity to trade goods from live yaks to handicrafts. Numerous institutions and technology firms such as the Donald Strauss Foundation, the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology at George Mason University, the World Bank, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), smartBridges, Pacific Wireless, and others provided support in this endeavor.
Nepal wireless project is working with Open Learning Exchange for developing educational content in line of the national curricula. The main goal is to use the network for live teleteaching transmitted from one school to other schools in remote areas to overcome the shortage of quality teachers. Another aim of project is to link the health workers to the doctors and even doctors directly to the patients.
“We are using the wireless network for health, providing telemedicine services to the remote villages,” said Mr Pun.
The project is also helping establish communication centres in the Villages to enable the villagers to have VOIP calls for communication to other villages. The project has been replicated under the name of Makawanpur wireless networking project. A detailed report of the project is available here. The vision of Mahabir has inspired many people and now Himanchal Education Foundation is working to use the school as a community centre. Connected school through the wireless project would mean a connected community through connected school.
Hole in the wall started of as an interesting experiment by a computer scientist, Dr. Sugata Mitra (head of research and development at the National Institute for Information Technology Limited (NIIT)), in which he installed a high tech computer on his office wall facing a slum and left it for the children to explore it. Astonishingly children learnt surfing in a single day!
In 1999 the International Finance Corporation, a World Bank subsidiary, invested $1.6 million in a project entitled ‘Hole in the Wall’, in which computer kiosks were placed in urban slums so that street children with almost no education could gain access to computer technology. They found that the children would teach each other how to use these computers. The project encourages underprivileged children in India to learn from a web-based curriculum through Internet kiosks. The kiosks were installed in over 60 locations over three years (2000-2003). The aim was to improve education for poor children, with equal access for girls and boys..
NIIT went on to conduct further studies to determine if illiterate slum children could use the Internet without instruction. The ICT-education firm set up continuous video tape monitoring of the computer that they had set up. The video showed that young boys and girls from the settlement became highly proficient at using various features of the computer regardless of lack of proficiency in English, and without any instruction. Soon it became “an extension of their playground, where they can play together, teach each other new things, and more importantly, just be themselves”
Already ubiquitous in New Delhi and Mysore, the Hole-in-the-wall systems were then spread throughout the country including the underserved areas of Rajhastan and Jaipur and the difficult terrains of Kashmir. The Hole in the wall education limited (HIWEL) has now expanded and reached upto the northern states of Mizoram and Nagaland. Such is the popularity of the project that it has crossed the borders and become a part of the commonwealth connects program in Uganda and now (according to recent news) making its way for being piloted in UK.
HIWEL has been conferred the coveted ‘Digital Opportunity Award’ for its path breaking work in spreading computer literacy and improving the quality of education at the grass root levels, by the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA).
Dr. Sugata in his talk at LIFT 2007 explains the impacts and results of his hole in the wall experiments, while a candid review of hole in the wall is presented in an article in readers’ digest. Another video report by The Guardian shows the children exploring the computers and having fun in learning.
With a population of over 31 million, the Indian state of Kerala — home to the IT@school initiative — has more people than many countries! IT@school, which provides ICT-enabled education to 1.6 million students per year in the state, is considered by some to be the largest educational program of its kind utilizing primarily free and open source software, thereby presenting a whole new model.
According to the official website IT@School endeavors to enhance the intellectual productivity of teacher and the curricular comprehension of students. The work of the project saw 4 million students and 0.2 million teachers empowered in ICT through a network of dedicated 200 Master Trainers and 5600 IT Co-coordinators. IT@School is the nodal agency for implementing EDUSAT (first Indian satellite exclusively serving the education sector) network and runs an exclusive channel for education called ‘ViCTERS’ (Virtual Classroom Technology on EDUSAT for Rural Schools).
The project has now associated with BSNL to provide Internet broad band connectivity to all high schools in Kerala. The success of the Project can be visualized by the conduct IT practical examination in free software for about 4 million students, first of this kind in the world with so much vast resourceful deployment of free software. The efforts of Project saw deployment of adequate IT infrastructure to all schools including computers and other accessories. Single largest simultaneous deployment of FOSS based ICT education in the world.
The project also focuses on capacity building by providing hardware and software training to teachers along with special programs to teach them the use of ICTs in education. Infrastructure up gradation is also an essential part of the project along with several E-governance initiatives. So far the project has supplied 40,000 computers to schools along with laptops, printers, scanners and generators. A recent news report also suggests that the project will provide free digital libraries to schools in Kerala soon.
The IT@School Project, of Kerala’s General Education Department has joined hands with chip giant Intel, to deploy a dual language version of the Skoool Learning and Teaching Technologies website. The platform is expected to benefit teachers and students (and parents!) in the state by providing attractive educational packages in school level Mathematics and Science, as a free Internet resource.
A snapshot of the impact of project is seen in this video and an article here. IT@School Project, through its various initiatives, has enabled the educational system to make a paradigm shift to ICT enabled education from the conventional IT education. Michael Trucano the senior ICT and Education Policy specialist at World Bank has included this project in his list of ICT initiatives in his blogpost titled ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch — and Learn From.
Nokia Siemens Networks Village Connection is a connectivity solution enabling operators to capture the rural market potential by offering affordable voice and sms service to villages for a relatively low investment, serving a dual purpose: providing access and connectivity to remote areas while helping NSN to fulfill its target of reaching 5 billion mobile subscribers’ target. The project targets population with very meager income (less than $2 per day) and provides them affordable access by making it economically viable for the telcos (by significant reduction in CAPEX). The major advantage lies in the cut down in the prices of infrastructure and equipment.
“The coverage uses modular, compact GSM Access Points, comprising radio frequency, power and a standard PC with Access Point software.”
Such is the potential of this project that it introduces a new business model for telcos. Other vendors like Huawei is also considering the Village Connection solution. The local access point is generally installed with an omni-directional antenna with customer premises equipment (CPE) which can be hosted with a local entrepreneur, moreover, very little network planning is required. Diesel powered generators and solar panels ensure power access during electric supply outages. The solution ensures that local calls are switched locally and the billing services can also be pushed to local entrepreneurs handling the equipment.
The Village Connection solution supporting voice and SMS can be easily expanded into range of value added services. Internet Kiosks provide internet access to the locals through the village connection. The inherent IP connectivity of GSM access point ensures internet connectivity. The solution has been successfully implemented in many countries, starting from India and extending out to Tanzania (by Vodafone). The brochure of Village Connection can be accessed here.