Talking about a revolution

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Talking about a  revolution


Walk into Nesargi, a village in Bailahongal taluk, 40 kms from Belgaum to meet 42 young SSLC graduates speaking English and handling computers and working on analog and digital designs, amidst the cows, vegetable dumps and winding rural roads.

“I am proud to have joined Karmic Training  Centre (KTC) where I am designing chips. My family of marginal farmers could not afford to send me for higher studies even though I could have qualified to study electronic engineering,” says a confident Veerabasanna.  

Usha from Houmsbavi who only has a married sister, could never have dreamt of a better deal in life. “Apart from training to be an engineer, which I could never have dreamt of , I save up to Rs 400 from my monthly stipend for my sister.”

A way out...

A majority of these trainees are Dalits who hail from rural disadvantaged families of coolies, share croppers etc. Despite being intelligent, they could not afford higher education beyond SSLC, explains Shivaling S Mahant Shetty, Director KarMic company. They are being trained  for three years as part of the ‘Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Junior Engineer Course’ where they design Integrated Chips used in mobile phones and other electronic gadgets.

“We have an elaborate system of selection through a network of academic institutions in north Karnataka. The trainees are paid a stipend of Rs 1,000, half of which needs to be given to parents. Else, they cannot afford to send them for such courses.” They will be absorbed in the company after three years of training.  A cursory look at the academic qualifications of these ‘junior engineers’ could prove his point. Ningappa Sampagaom from Hooli village Saudati taluk scored 71 %, Veerabasanna Gouda Patil , from Chikkanaji village in Haveri dist scored 77% .The list of the intelligent matriculates goes on.

Channappa Desai from Panigatt village could not have been deprived of the opportunity of being recruited, despite reaching late for his interview. “Since I had migrated to Goa for construction labour, I got delayed.”

Theirs is a comprehensive vocational course focusing on digital chip design, explains Mahantshetty, which includes doing projects with major firms. Professionals teach them both in the classroom and computer labs. “I teach these trainees the same fundamentals I have taught the MTech students.”

This was corroborated by Nagaraj and six other graduate engineers working on projects for three months with the trainees at KTC. “We are learning from them. They are proficient with the back-end work as they have been on the production line for one-and-a-half years, while our knowledge of designing chips is limited to the textbooks.” Tailoring the curriculum to the availability of electricity has been a major challenge. Nesargi’s power availability is low during the day, and greater during the night. Hence they work in computer labs at night, sometimes past midnight.  

Basics of rural life taken care of

The basics of rural life are not forgotten and woven into the curriculum “based on Gandhian style of reconstruction.” This includes a range of activities from constructing dams, repair works, clearing garbage, farming, cattle rearing, as they are an integral part of the village. Their other activities include playing volleyball and other sports during the day to watching movies on the VCDs and television as entertainment.    

Much like building a dam... 

“Designing a chip is not very different from constructing a dam,” says a confident Chennappa, a seasoned construction labourer like Durgappa.  These trainees collectively build dams during the day to divert the water from a canal. Each time the dam breaks with excess water coming in, they rebuild it.  In the first semester, they learn to build a PC, which includes printed circuit board, layout files, networking used for designing the inside of a cellphone.

In the second year they learn about circuits used in cellphones. Tasnim, their English teacher has a very positive reaction to the students’ ability to pick up the English language. “The first eight months, they learn English to the extent of being able to converse...They pick up enough English to read technical books as CDs in the library are all in English,” she says. “The design labs are very helpful for learning the language.” 

Punam Agale, another teacher’s experience with the girls was enriching. One night she entered the room where Asha, Manjula and Chandrakala, three junior engineers, were talking on pretend phones and giggling. They turned around to tell her that they were experimenting to improve their diction in English. 

A ‘chip’ off the old block?

After completion of  BTech from IIT Powai in 1972, Shivling S Mahanshetty, completed his  doctorate from Brown University in Electrical Sciences in 1978. He worked in the US for 27 years in several spheres of hardware technology. As he was interested in circuits, he finally narrowed down to IT hardware, and got down to designing chips with Texas Instruments for 16 years. “Chip designing was not done those days. I learnt it the hard way.”

“I returned home to Belgaum in 1999 as I thought that I had a social obligation to fulfill. After a lot of scouting around, I set up a company in Manipal, where engineering graduates work on IT.”  “I also want to return to society what I have gained from it. We cannot equate higher education to running away from farms, as production of food is basic to any economy.” Shetty hails from a family of professionals, and his grandfather had moved from Nesargi village to Bailahongal, the taluk headquarters 
Shetty moved back to Nesargi two years back where he teaches “batches of 20 each  chip designing.” 

About the quality of engineers produced, Mahantshetty is disheartened by the present-day education system. “Textbook education with barely any practical knowledge has created far too may problems.” After seven years of education (after 10th standard), most of these engineers need to be taught the basics, as most of them have mugged up the texts.”

“A majority of the teachers have never designed integrated chips and hence they are not in a position to teach their students. I felt that rural youths are fairly intelligent and could be trained to do this job. Besides they are very much in tune with basics of farming and have the dignity of labour.”

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