| Vajpayee launches the Vidya Vahini project as Shourie looks on. (PTI)
New Delhi, June 11: The Vidya Vahini project — which is designed to bring schools and children in the outback into the mainstream education process through Internet access and computer-aided learning — has finally got off the ground.
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today inaugurated the Vidya Vahini pilot project which is a technical overlay over the existing schemes that seeks to yoke technological tools and the Internet to stimulate the learning environment in rural schools.
The project aims to facilitate computer-aided learning, access to Internet, online libraries, academic services, web broadcast, e-learning and sharing.
In the east, the project is being implemented in South 24-Parganas in West Bengal and Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand. Gandhinagar (Gujarat), Kuppam (Andhra Pradesh), Parivaijnath (in Maharashtra) and Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh are the other districts where the pilot project is under implementation.
As a first step to spur e-learning in these districts, the ministry of communications and information technology has waived the licence fee and wireless planning commission (WPC) fees for the Vidya Vahini pilot project.
The chief ministers of all the seven states also held a video conferencing session with the Prime Minister and each other to demonstrate the potential of the project. As part of the project, each of the schools will be provided with one fully-networked lab consisting personal computers, server, software and Internet connectivity of 128 kilo bytes per second. These schools will act as an anchor for the nearby schools using the 802.11b technology — which the geeks call wi-fi.
“Currently the project is being implemented on a pilot basis in seven districts covering 140 government schools located largely in the semi-urban and rural areas across the country,” said Arun Shourie, minister for communications and information technology.
Shourie said the project would help reduce the digital divide.
Sources in communications ministry said: “The project cost for setting up intranet and Internet in 140 schools and seven training labs has a recurring expenditure of annual VSAT licence fee spectrum of Rs 25,000 per VSAT, annual WPC licence fee of Rs 5,000 per VSAT. The waiver will benefit the project since this will attract industry and private institutions to provide internet and other computer facilities.”
The schools identified have minimal budgetary funds and find difficulty to pay the recurring charges.
According to a note prepared by the telecom commission: “Currently, there are about 11 lakh government schools in the country both in the primary and higher secondary levels. Out of these, only 60,000 senior secondary schools have basic infrastructure like science and mathematics teachers, electricity, telephone, and furniture.”
This is also an attempt to ensure private sector participation in the education sector. Companies like Intel, Microsoft, Infosys and Wipro have participated at various levels in the project.
“Intel and Microsoft have provided the hardware and software and also the training to the teachers and principals. Some state governments have initiated the programmes with companies like Wipro and Infosys for the same,” said a senior official in the communications and IT ministry.
About 735 teachers have been trained under the project by Intel under a two-week programme and three-day workshop for the principals. A central portal has been hosted —www.vidyavahini.ernet.in — that contains educational material, programming tools, web pages of all schools, software tools for students and teachers, language tools and course curriculum.
Our Hyderabad correspondent adds:
The inauguration of the Vidya Vahini project had its fair share of controversy when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi prefaced his address with the controversial ”Saraswati vandana “prayer.
The Saraswati Vandana prayer became controversial in 1998 when Murli Manohar Joshi, human resources development minister, wanted to force all government-aided schools to start the morning assembly with the recitation of the Saraswat vandana.
The move was torpedoed by the NDA allies — but Modi sparked the controversy again today.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister . Chandrababu Naidu also put Shourie in a spot when he accused the Centre of doling out communication spectrum — radio frequencies — to private FM channels for their slapdash entertainment programmes, but refusing to extend the same facilities to the state governments to enable them to impart information on agriculture, health and education to the people at large.
Shourie ducked out of a sticky situation by saying rather lamely: “I am not a technology man like you, but I will get back to you Mr. Naidu.”