The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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IBM dumps computer programme agency

A log-out bug has hit Bengal government’s much-hyped computer literacy programme (CLP) in schools. IBM Learning Services, which was selected by the government’s IT department to impart computer training to students in 200 schools, has decided to log out Indus Institute of Information Management (iIIM), the agency carrying out the programme for the past two years.

In its letter to iIIM, a society promoted by the youth services department of government of West Bengal, IBM has said: “We would like to terminate the non-technical services agreement signed with you.” IBM has officially declined to comment on the development. “We don’t comment on rumours and speculation,” said a company spokesperson from Bangalore, despite a copy of the termination being with The Telegraph.

Md Salim, state technical education minister who is also chairman of the iIIM board, dashed off a letter last week to Abraham Thomas, country general manager, IBM India. The October 23 letter clearly states: “The performance of iIIM has been appreciated in the academic arena. It is, therefore, desired that IBM should reconsider its decision and carry on with iIIM without any interruption.” When contacted, Salim confirmed that he had sent such a letter and was awaiting a reply from IBM.

State primary education minister Kanti Biswas said: “We have heard something like this. But the details are with the IT department.” While no one in the government is clear on the development, off-the- record grumbles on the multinational’s decision to dump a government-promoted society can be heard at Writers’ Buildings.

As part of CLP, billed as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s dream project for GeneratioNext, the government had drawn up plans to introduce computer education in over 10,000 schools across the state. Jointly funded by the central and state governments, the project is one of the biggest IT projects in the state and besides IBM, Wipro has also evinced interest in the project. At present, the programme runs in 300 schools with NIIT conducting it in 100 schools and iIIM, “in favour of IBM”, in the rest.

Now with IBM serving a termination notice to its project implementation partner, the confusion has compounded. “We have little clue over what’s happening around us. We knew it was a three-year contract, but now we hear that IBM has come out of it and roped in another privately-promoted organisation to implement the project,” said an iIIM-appointed trainer in one of the city schools.

Sources at Webel confirmed that IBM has switched from the government-promoted agency to a month-old, privately-held Salt Lake-based company, allegedly backed by an influential member in Writer’s, which has already started issuing appointment letters for the project. “This entire episode indicates lack of planning and transparency in the programme. The government should have taken lessons from how similar programmes are implemented in an efficient way down South,” said an educationist.

Around a year-and-a-half ago, the programme had come under criticism, after a government-appointed expert committee cast doubts on NIIT’s delivery mechanism and identified high dropout rates in schools as one of the major problems facing CLP.

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