02 December 2011

Charting an Inclusive Socio-Economic Growth Gradient

These days, we often come across jargons such as, 'knowledge economy', 'information explosion', and 'world at your fingertips'. These are not alien terms, as they have become an indispensible part of our regular vocabulary. If you go back a decade, a totally different picture would have surfaced. The dichotomy exists even today, translated by economists as 'India' and 'Bharat'; while urban India has taken IT for granted; there is a mammoth demographic segment, who doesn’t know how technology touches their lives, if at all it does.

 In these two words 'Information' and 'technology', the aspect to be noticed, is the fact that Information always precedes technology. Information existed and technology made it accessible; thereby building a society-knowledge rich, aware, and discerning. With time, the fact got proven, that IT is an enabler of social inclusivity, by the sheer truth that it can bring information to the masses, educate them, and make them live a life of quality.

Technology is an indispensible aspect in fostering education and our society is waking up to this fact. The One-Laptop-Per-Child, was the initial fuel for a future, where every corporate would have sharpened their lens to laser focus on the under-privileged. It's not just the mere distribution of books or schoolbags; as had the practice been really fruitful, the number of drop-outs definitely would have been much less than five million. Of the nearly one million public schools in India, less than 0.2 percent have any form of IT infrastructure or computer-based education.

However, though technology has made inroads into areas hitherto inaccessible, there is still a major chunk of the population, who cannot take the advantage of the possibilities because of obvious constraints; ‘cost’ being one. Several organizations are undertaking initiatives to negate those constraints and time testifies the fact that we have come a long way in doing so. Numerous grass-root innovations are happening, to bridge the glaring digital divide. For example, HP’s Lab-in-box, a unique initiative where a fully equipped mobile class room can provide secondary education content, designed by NCERT, to reach students in remote areas who cannot afford school education. The biggest challenge in India undoubtedly is that of infrastructure. Setting up a school is a cumbersome process, necessitating very high costs in terms of building materials, municipality permits, electricity, remuneration for teachers, and maintenance. As a corollary, this acts as a hurdle to many bright students, who cannot afford that kind of money. HP’s solutions brought education at the doorstep.

Similarly, companies like HCL Infosystems are providing end-to-end turnkey advanced education solutions to schools, institutions and universities across the country in the government and private sector. HCL DigiSchool’s key feature is that, this solution offers digital multimedia asset library, covering all major aspects in K12 category. There are many other solutions, such as Campus Infrastructure Solution, University Resource Planning, Online Distance Learning/e-Learning Programme and Tele Education. Many IT behemoths are also developing low cost laptops and encouraging broadband connectivity, engineered to reach masses uninitiated to the ramified opportunities that technology can provide.

Keeping in perspective the fact, that today out of approximately 200 million children in the age group of 6-14 years, only 120 million have ever gone to school, these initiatives will pave a long way in fostering an inclusive atmosphere for socio economic growth. As part of its Vision 2020 plan, the Government is looking to increase the number of school going children, to 30 percent by 2020. Now is the season of Tablets; we often read in the papers about low cost tablets for village panchayats, for students and even the Government. With a medium to access information and the information content itself, technology is acting as a game changer. Both these components are existing, in a complementary relationship and technology is enabling this trend.

 Information technology industry has already ushered in a catalytic change in the Indian society, by collaborating with the government to increase accessibility, affordability, and accountability of essential services. Technology has brought about effective alterations in administrative functions, in terms of public services and e-governance projects, to eliminate avoidable inefficiencies, reduce corruption, and guaranteeing ease of collaboration amongst diverse departments. Some cases in point are the much appreciated UID project, National e-Governance Plan (NeGP), or establishing State Wide Area Networks (SWAN) scheme in 27 states and 6 union territories (UTs) on a pan India level. The industry itself has accelerated technology-adoption across various sectors, including healthcare, real-estate, BFSI, tourism and retail; thereby improving quality of life of the citizens of India. Constraints still exists in terms of cost and awareness. As these dissolve with time, technology will make its presence felt even more assertively and act as building blocks for social inclusivity.

 The article is authored by  Rohit Pande, CEO, Classteacher Learning Systems