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Confusion clouds state tech literacy project

There’s something about chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s much-hyped tech literacy programme in the schools of Bengal that is raising more questions than answering them, creating more controversy than computer-literate students.

The present cloud of confusion over the programme has to do with project contractor IBM’s sudden decision to switch its sub-contractor, and the lack of transparency in the entire process. The signals emerging from the surprise switchover are contrary, to say the least.

Take West Bengal Board of Secondary Education president Dibyendu Hota’s certificate of appreciation, early this year, to the institute implementing the government’s computer literacy programme in 200 schools across Bengal: This is to acknowledge that the faculties provided by IIiM (Indus Institute of Information Management IIiM) for training of computer applications to the school teachers were very good.”

Cut to IBM Global Services’ Bharath S. Giriyapura’s letter of termination last month to IIiM, with which it had tied up to deliver the programme: “… we would like to terminate the non-technical services agreement signed with you.” Or to another note in which IBM informs Webel that it was “in the process of transitioning the same to IIIM Ltd”, as the project needed a “corporate organisational structure” over the “present structure of a society”.

The society referred to by IBM — IIiM — is a two-and-a-half-year-old society promoted by the youth services department of the government of West Bengal. The benefactor of the “transitioning” is a privately-promoted two-month-old firm — IIIML, which, according to sources, has been handed a work order identical to the one held by IIiM.

Md Salim, the state technical education minister, has requested IBM to reconsider its decision to dump IIiM, but the multinational remains mum.

The promoters of the fledgling IIIML, of course, are gung-ho. “The project was not managed professionally. We will address the issues and start the project from November 1,” announces CEO Kushal Maitra.

Confusion over implementing agencies is just part of the problem of the programme for which IBM is charging around Rs 1.8 crore as project management fees for three years. High tuition fees, no price negotiation for hardware procurement and failure in conducting examination are some of the hitches highlighted, in March, by an expert committee chaired by Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Ashok Thakur.

The government lowered the monthly tuition fee to Rs 35 from Rs 45, but then promptly replaced the earlier committee. “We have started afresh on assessing the project and will offer our views as and when the government asks us to do so,” says Hota, at the helm of the present committee.

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