Mr. Singhal opened the session & shared that when we talk about modern education, we talk about how the use of tools like laptops and computers for education has increased. On the other hand we also have the traditional Indian system of education where it is a unidirectional flow and generally no questions asked. Now the question which needs attention is whether we are going to use these digital aids for just disseminating more and more information or we are going to empower our students, with these digital aids, so that they ask more and more questions and in fact start exploring what has been unexplored so far.
The very first presentation was by Mr. S. S. Jena from National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), India. NIOS is an autonomous body under the Ministry of HRD and provides students with school level education and various vocational education courses. This is being undertaken via open and distance learning programs. Since this organization has a very limited face to face contact with students, they have to use a variety of ICT tools to provide required information to students and interact with them. They are India’s largest institution for open learning. The presenter then acquainted everybody with the working model of the NIOS informatics system. Other than the study centres in India, NIOS also has study centres in Nepal, Bangladesh and UAE. For NIOS, the learner is the center of the operations. The process starts with the analysis of the needs of the group or candidate. After this step the curriculum is designed, material is developed and finally delivered to the candidate. At the end of the period, assessment takes place. Any feedback received is used to assist the further development of the course. For the people who are slow learners or physically disabled people, NIOS is nothing less than a boon.
Next presenter was Ms. Bhagya Rangachar from CLT e-Patshala. The presenter shared that they had set up this non-profit non-govt. organization in 1997 to build a support system for children who go to govt. schools. Initially, unable to decide which way to start, they started with a mid-day meal program. Even today they consider it a very important program as it helped them build contacts and recognize the needs of people. These issues went beyond nutrition and in fact were more related to good education. Rural households especially couldn’t find teachers for their children for core subjects like Mathematics, Science and English. To address this issue, they have now turned to the use of ICT tools. Today they have full-fledged library of multimedia content from the books of primary as well as high schools, that too in two languages, one regional and English. The delivery of the content can be done from anywhere and can be received on variety of platforms. They have been able to do so over the years, despite being an ngo is that, they broke the myth that e-content have to be very beautiful or presented in particular way. Instead they experimented with real teachers and real life objects and over the years the content has grown more sophisticated and increased the impact in a magnificent way.
The Manthan Awards has always been known for bringing best ICT practices from all countries of the SAARC region; the next project was from another SAARC nation, Bangladesh. The presenter Russell T Ahmed shared that when he played video games in his childhood, he never imagined that games could be played with algebra, fractions and other mathematical concepts. This is something that they have done in Champ21, anagram for Champions of the 21st century. He added that they are Bangladesh’s first e-learning system and launched in the year 2010. Currently they develop mathematics games. They are working on another project of creating animations for science courses. They have developed game on every mathematical concept, ranging from basic addition subtraction to factorization, algebra and geometry etc. It was difficult to start in a country with low internet penetration like Bangladesh; given the fact the game development cost is awfully high. But in a span of one and half years, they have got about 45000+ usage and are still growing. Having received the National Innovation Award from the Bangladesh govt., they are set to make their mark in the education industry.
After Bangladesh, it was the turn of another neighboring country, Sri Lanka. The presentation was by Ms. Thilanka Abeywardena from Web School, Etisalat Lanka (pvt.) ltd., Sri Lanka. They were here to share the story of how they created a web school for every student in their country. This is one of the well-funded projects by the education ministry of Sri Lanka and the content is equivalent to curriculum of any national school. Another organization is involved in distributing this content to schoolchildren across the whole Sri Lanka. The presenter added that Etisalat Lanka is the third stakeholder in the project and is responsible for providing the 3G network, mobile devices and investment for the project. It is a public private partnership. The impact of the project can be estimated from the fact that within two years, they have been able to increase the level of ICT literacy from about less than 5% to about 12%. The Sri Lankan govt. aims to achieve the target of 75% digital literacy by the year 2060. This project has also revealed some major gaps that were present in the education sector. This project is going to be very crucial for the advancement and growth of Sri Lankan people.
The next project was Multi-lingual Platform for Digital Devices & applications by Reverie Language Technologies Pvt. ltd. Mr. Arvind Pani one of the co-founders of the company was here for his presentation. He played a small quiz and asked people if they could read the language on the screen. By the raise of hand he could demonstrate that a majority of todays population can read English while number of people who could read vernacular languages was very low. But the reality on the ground was very different. Almost 70% of Indians are literate in their native languages while English literacy is less than 10%. He shared that that the above translates into the mobile context as follows: majority of people in India can’t use their devices for purposes other than voice calls, since they can read or written only their language. When compared in the revenue terms, the share of non-voice services in the revenue of telephone companies is extremely low. A solution to this problem is given by Reverie. They provide a platform that would enable people to read and write in their regional languages on her mobile devices, be it end user, app developer, service provider or anyone else. They support 32 languages of the world and specialize in complex scripts. This is an amazing initiative to promote the usage of non-voice services among mobile device users.
With the issue of protection of local languages getting more intense, the next presenter has made an important initiative towards this. Mr. Sunil Khandbahale from khandbahale.com, Maharashtra was here for his project: Indian language dictionary on SMS. The mission of his company, as he says, is to preserve Indian languages and to convert language barriers into language bridges. Already running a multi-lingual dictionary online, they have now moved to mobile platform for this. To be able to serve even the feature phones well, they have SMS based dictionary service. You can simply send the key (there is code word or key for every language) along with the word whose meaning you are looking to a specified number. With no premium or hidden charges, you get the response with the meaning of that word. Operating with not for profit purpose, the company looks forward to promote the use of service on a larger scale. With already 10 languages in their armament, the service is making an inspirational effort to preserve India languages.
The next presenter was Ms. Hema A Murthy for the project Development of Text to Speech System in Indian Languages. The presenter had come from IIT Chennai. The presenter shared that engineers are believed to build technology for the society and that is how this product came into existence. In India, the disable population is about 3% out of which 1.5% is visually impaired. Screen readers are usually employed for training blind children. The standard screen readers are in English language. Even though they are in Indian-English accent, still becomes difficult for visually impaired children to understand them. IIT Chennai has developed a solution for this. They have developed screen readers in the native languages and the cost of these software has been kept very low. The product was developed keeping in mind the requirement of a common platform. This would enable the entry of any new language in the platform very easy. With the efforts of IIT Chennai, this product is proving to be a boon for the visually impaired people.
The next speaker Mr. Atiur Rahman Khan for the day was from Gist Group, CDAC representing his project on the Development of Tools Technologies & Resources for North East languages. The presenter initiated by saying that everyone is aware of the role that ICT tools are playing today in the preservation of local and regional languages. This can be done by developing a variety of resources and tools that support the language. A similar initiative has been taken up by Gist Group for the development of resources for north eastern languages. They started the project back in 2008. The mission was to create resources for 4 north eastern languages; Assamese, Nepali, Manipuri and Bodo. The aim was to make this technology grammatically correct and deliver them to the people. Also the technologies were to be designed in a way that they lead to seamless transfer of knowledge and preservation of these languages. The chair shared a concern that most of the projects that are based on the languages never see the market. Thus such projects should be made sustainable enough so that they reach market in time.
The final presentation for the session was from Science Website in Bengali language, Cosmic Culture, Bangladesh. The presenter Mr. Joy Dey gave a brief overview of his company and its projects. They have developed the largest science portal in the Bengali language. The presenter added that most of the time people are unable to read science articles simply because they are in English language. Thus they have come up with this website.