The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Madarsa modernisation machines idle

Calcutta, Sept. 1: Apparently, they are 10 computers that the government had arranged for an educational institution. But their significance went beyond that; they were machines meant to kick-start the government’s plan for a grand entry of modernity into the world of madarsas.

Two years down the road, nothing much seems to have come out of the plan chalked out at the behest of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Not a single student of Hooghly Madarsa, where the computers were installed, has been able to lay his hand on the machines that were supposed to open up the expressway to modernity.

According to the latest report with the school education department, five of the computers are out of order.

Ten machines were installed in 2001 as part of the government’s plan to introduce students of madarsas to computers. Hooghly Madarsa was the natural choice, officials said, as it was the only government-run madarsa following the syllabus prescribed by the West Bengal Board of Madarsa Education. “Besides, with all its tradition (it is a contemporary of Presidency College), no other madarsa was deemed fit for the honour of starting off the scheme,” one of them said.

A separate room, beside the one used by the madarsa’s non-teaching employees, was earmarked to house the computers. A carpet was bought and an uninterrupted supply of electricity was arranged, said officials.

The madarsa authorities also asked teachers and students to pay a fee, ranging between Rs 100 and Rs 200. Most of them obliged. “We were only too keen to have our kids learn computers,” Hooghly Madarsa Guardians’ Committee secretary Abdul Latif said. “We willingly paid up, though for many guardians the fees were a little too steep.”

But, after the machines were installed and the money collected, the madarsa management appeared to be in no hurry to make the students computer-literate. “They kept pushing back the date when the room and the computers were to be thrown open to students, on some pretext or the other,” said Mohammad Abdur Rahman, a Class-X student.

“Ultimately, they refunded the money to the students. They did not bother to inform our parents,” Rahman added.

Several requests to the madarsa authorities yielded nothing and the students, with help from the guardians, brought the issue of the unused computers to the notice of Bikash Bhavan, the headquarters of the school education department in Calcutta.

It was only after this that word went to Webel, the nodal IT agency of the government. The agency promptly sent a team of engineers to find out whether the computers were okay.

“Unfortunately, the team found that five of the 10 machines had gone out of order,” an education department official said. But things again stopped moving after that visit.

Students have now resorted to an indefinite agitation to have their right to computers restored. “We do not want anything except our children’s access to computers,” Latif said. “We are even willing to pay for the instructor if the authorities want us to do that,” he added.

The madarsa management has clammed up. Besides explaining that there was some difficulty about the rules (they, apparently, would not allow less than 400 students to learn computers and the madarsa had less than 150 on its rolls), no official would comment. Teacher-in-charge Nasir Ali Ansari, too, would not come on the line.

But officials at Bikash Bhavan said the department would take “suitable action after getting a detailed report”.

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