Timely revision

The Union Cabinet has done well to give its nod to a revision of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) scheme that is being implemented currently in government and aided schools across the country. Under the revised scheme, over a lakh government schools will receive computer-aided teaching and learning facilities. This is expected to benefit nearly 1.5 crore students. The ICT scheme also aims at capacity building. A million teachers will be provided training in use of ICT tools. The scheme is aimed at injecting a new energy into efforts at bridging the urban-rural digital divide. In place since 2005, the scheme appeared to be lacking in direction. Its original deadline of bridging the digital divide by 2009 was extended to 2012. But achieving the target even by this extended deadline has not been possible.

Bridging the gap requires more than just supplying rural schools with computers. It requires supportive infrastructure, trained teachers and new mindsets, among other things. How can children learn to use computers when there is no electricity to run computers? How can students explore the unlimited information and knowledge that the internet has to offer when connectivity remains slow and expensive? What computer literacy can children hope to get when teachers in rural schools don’t show up for work? The revised ICT scheme envisages dependable power supply and internet connectivity. It pledges provision of e-content in regional languages keeping in mind the challenges in English language skills that rural children might have. It also provides incentives to teachers who use ICT-enabled methods in teaching.

Experts have warned that inadequate allocation of resources for the ICT scheme is hampering its implementation. While there is some truth to this, the scheme has suffered more on account of corruption and lack of political will. ICT empowers rural communities by giving them information of vital importance to their daily activities such as weather conditions, supply-demand statistics, scientific practices in farming, land records and so on. ICT can increase transparency in governance. Providing rural children with access to ICT-enabled education is the first step towards empowering them. The government must give top priority to implementing the scheme.

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