Empowering Villagers by ICT (23 Nov 2006- article published in FPJ newspaper, mumbai)



Empowering Villagers by ICT


ICT - Information & Communication Technology –
"Information and communications technologies (ICT) are the computing and communications facilities and features that variously support teaching, learning and a range of activities in education.

When we think of villages, what comes before our eyes is the filmi depiction --- green fields full of crops, numerous big trees and plants, small ponds, lined huts, grazing cattle, green grass, meandering roads, birds chirping, children playing and people dressed in simple clothes. The mere thought of a village takes us back to our roots. The fragrance of the soil brings a fresh aroma in the air.

But the real picture of village life is quite different, making villagers face the harsh realities of Poverty and Unemployment.

India is a country of villages. About 627,000 of them scattered through the country. Most of these are very small with a population of about 1000 people. The primary occupation being agriculture, development of the villagers, and thus that of India, means progress in farming techniques.

However, despite of all our dependence on rural India and agro-based economy, one third of our poor brothers and sisters are living in the villages where infrastructure like communication network, roads, transport, power supply, health care and education system is under-developed…reason being the lack of information, education and a guidance. His profits are not enough to give him a quality life.

“What do you want to become?” Ask this question to a child sitting in the air conditioned school of a big city, and he will give the obvious reply- a Doctor, Engineer, Actor or may be a Scientist. But when you ask the same question to a boy from village, his reply will be very different- “I want to go to city and work there”.

This reply of a village boy is based on the dramatic visualization he has been given by hindi movies and village migrants. Bright lights on roads, big malls, palace like buildings and well dressed people…for a villager this is the dream world where he would like to reach and make a place. All young talented or even not so talented minds move from villages to the cities in search of work making villages more and more isolated.

Villagers are generally hard working. To rise before the first ray of sun touches the earth, to work hard for the whole day, to spend evenings in some discussions at the common places like choupals and local shops, sit together to hum the folk songs and occasional participation in group dances, cultural performances etc. has been the way of life for these villagers since ages.

But now they are looking for a change. Getting to know about the progress of the country through new technologies being invented, villagers too want to be a part of this developing era of our country.

And ICT has been a helping hand in giving a concrete shape to this changing mentality of the Indian villagers.

ICT has changed the whole concept of discriminations and classifications that we had amongst ourselves. Since ages, we had the categorizations on basis of caste-creed, high class-low class, powerful-powerless etc. But the era of ICT has given us just two broad categories of people- Information rich and Information poor. ICT is the element trying to fill in the gap between these two current classes.

It was in the mid 1980s, during Rajiv Gandhi’s era, India decided to focus on information and communication technologies as a driver for development. At that time it was thought to be elitist, urban-oriented and too high-tech but as the concept came in practical use, it never looked back.

The basic requirement of Indian villages is the continuous flow of income with an increasing scope of employment opportunities. And ICT has played a double beneficial role in fulfilling this.

On one hand, where the people of villages are involved with agriculture, ICT has guided them towards using new techniques, new seeds as well as new minerals and fertilizers. The better understanding of seasons, the market rate of cereals and the concept of selling and marketing…all this knowledge has made the villagers more confident. The different models related to ICT in Indian agriculture has helped these villagers find new scopes of growth. Some of such projects are-

1. GyanDoot: This project is located in central Indian state of MP, which was initiated by local administrative authorities with consultation with gram panchayats or the village councils. It was a role model for other local Govt. bodies to bring governance and rural information kiosk at the doorsteps of the beneficiaries in the tribal India.
http://www.gyandoot.nic.in/


2. SARI (Sustainable Access in Rural India): A good and collaborative model between India’s best technology institutes like IIT-Chennai, MIT Media Lab-Asia and Harvard University, these projects aim to provide access to 1000+ villages in Mudurai. The objectives of the project were to provide easy and affordable access to rural entrepreneurs to empower and include them with connectivity.
http://edev.media.mit.edu/SARI/



3. E-Choupal: The only model of its own is supported by major Indian corporate house ITC, The model is successfully bridging the gap between rural community and buyer and increase the income level of the farmers by removing the role of middlemen. The model has also generated various employment opportunities in central and northern India for rural educated youths.
http://www.echoupal.com/

4. TaraHaat: The project is a private sector initiative to provide online services to large number of rural communities in north India, working as a rural connectivity in Punjab and MP. One of the most innovative aspects of the project is its highly interactive and graphics –interface systems, which allow semi-literate and neo-literate users enhanced access to products and services.
http://www.tarahaat.com/



7. Simputer: Developed with the aim to offer low cost computing for rural community. The Simputer is the most innovative model in the recent past by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Aim of the innovation is to keep the hardware cost very low, so that rural consumer can also buy one and can have access to free information and knowledge.
http://www.simputer.org/


10. Swayam Krishi Sangam (SKS): SKS is an MFI using smart cards as part of their work to promote micro finance and micro enterprise program to reduce poverty by reaching out 25,000 poor families in 1000 villages in rural Medak Dist. of AP.
http://www.sksindia.com/



11. SEWA (Self Employed Women Association): A volunteer initiative to empower rural women by employing them in their houses is one of the most successful model in Indian social sector. Today thousand of women SHG (Self Help Groups) are involved with SEWA and the implementation of their ICT has brought much better results in marketing and networking for them globally. It has helped to empower rural poor women in Gujarat and UP with the help of ICT.http://www.sewa.org/



12. Drishtee.Com: Pvt. sector company seeking to bring a networked information and services to rural citizen–consumer. Drishtee is a rural network for delivering services and related information to the village community through an ICT Center called as Drishtee Soochnalaya or Information Kiosk. The Kiosks are run by entrepreneurs selected from the villages and have been designed to follow a service-delivery based revenue model.
http://drishtee.com/



ICT, on the other hand, has also helped the young minds of villages, which are keen towards education and technology; ICT has provided them with educational classes as well as the employment opportunities. It has guided the students in choosing their career and has shown them the way of achieving it. With the coming of ICT in villages and the opening of new employment opportunities, migration has lessened, retaining intelligent minds in villages to plan the further development.

Various NGOs have started providing online classes to village children as well as adults, the job applications are made available to the youngsters online and the women can online sell their handicrafts on reasonable rates. Today an artist of Madhubani painting sitting in some remote village of North India can not be made foolish by the middle man making him sell his painting in a worthless price, or a youngster can not be misguided by someone telling him that a payment of Rs.10, 000 would make him an actor in Bollywood. ICT has made the people from rural areas join the race of power and progress, giving them the command of knowledge.

The ICT education programs in various states have served the purpose in a fruitful way. Few examples of such programs are-

Mobile Classrooms: IT buses in Rural India-
Using buses converted into mobile computing classrooms to spread IT literacy among rural school students, this World Bank project is being piloted in Maharashtra’s Pune district, India. An initial investment of $1 million will be used for buying computers, the salaries of the instructors and for buying new buses and reconditioning old ones. Under the plan, 20 buses will be converted into mobile computing units by removing the seats and replacing them with battery-powered computers. The buses will travel from one school to another in rural Pune, teaching basic computer skills along with typing knowledge through local language curriculum. If successful, the project will be replicated in other parts of the country.

Rural Relations-
In order to prepare children from rural areas for life and work in the modern age, Pradeep Lokhande, under the aegis of "Rural Relations", a rural consumer relations organization that he runs in Pune, is working towards taking second-hand computers to 28,000 village schools in India. Having personally visited over 4,000 villages in India since February 2000, he has installed 102 used computers. Used computers are collected from donors and given to schools free of cost, after a through analysis of ICT readiness. After the schools see the value of using the computers in their classroom, it is hoped that the school will seek funds on its own to either upgrade the existing computer or then buy a new one and initiate computer education in the school. The current figures show that the students have pushed 37 of the 102 schools into buying new computers or upgrading the systems.



Indira Soochna Shakti -

Indira Soochna Shakti, or "Empowering a quarter million schoolgirls through ICT" is a project in Chhattisgarh, India whose goal is the "seamless access to IT education for all girls in high schools". The project mission is to work in all 1605 of the state's government high schools by delivering four years of IT instruction to girls through an innovative public-private sector partnership, where a private entrepreneur has been provided space in schools and permitted commercial IT use outside school timings. Volunteers then share networked handheld community computers in villages and help route information and information-enabled services of local relevance to the communities.

Everyone has welcomed the concept of ICT and the Government as well as the citizens is working towards making the best use of it. However, if we look beyond this, we find a third body very active in advocating the notion of ICT.

This third figure is the Indian NGOs.

Information and Communication Technology has been used by Indian NGOs to achieve their goal of helping the needy. The use of ICT by NGOs in reaching out to the rural areas, conducting educational programmes, opening information kiosks, encouraging people to volunteer and convince the people in villages towards the progress they could see with the help of ICT… the role of NGOs has been very influential.

SAATHII, (Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India), with its centers in Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad, was among the first non-profit organizations based in India to use ICT tools in the HIV/AIDS area. Similarly, NGOs like Deepalaya, New Delhi, whose mission is to promote the overall development of unprivileged communities, with a particular focus on education - use ICT to offer computer classes to their students, starting at the age of 10 (6th grade).
Government, Citizens and the NGOs- where all the three of them are trying to make the best use of this ICT revolution, there are few such organizations, which have formulated ICT as the information center in its real sense. Karmayog (http://www.karamyog.org/) is a very pertinent example of this. Karmayog has used ICT to become a free platform for the Indian Non-profit sector. Nonprofits can provide information about themselves, their needs and their functions through the website. They can display their profiles, events, job vacancies and ask for volunteers, materials, services and funds. Similarly the citizens can find a pool of information on various social and civic issues, lodge complaints on various problems, give suggestions via forums and also show their interest in helping the nonprofits.


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