The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Double Bill for IT leap
- Microsoft ready to help government spread computer education, boost e-governance plans

New Delhi, Dec. 6: Bill Gates will pick up threads left in a September Seattle meeting when he resumes talks with communications minister Dayanidhi Maran as part of an engagement aimed at bridging India’s yawning digital divide.

Initiatives and funds for the government’s efforts to promote information technology, IT literacy, high-quality interactive IT education in schools, availability of local language computing solutions and e-governance will be among the issues dominating Wednesday’s discussions.

The two met at the minister’s residence this morning in a 20-minute chat that kicked off the India trip of the world’s richest man and Microsoft’s chief software architect.

The pow-wow took forward talks at the computer giant’s Redmond headquarters almost three months back, when Maran had highlighted the need for Microsoft to help the government push e-governance projects.

“Efforts like the expansion of teacher education and broadening the Windows XP starter edition for India will be discussed,” sources in the communications ministry said.

In the past, Microsoft had decided to set up an e-governance centre of excellence, along with an Indian institution, in a plan that would have cost $2 million over three years.

The centre, to be guided by an advisory body of eminent people, was part of the company’s initiative to share its knowledge and experiences in working with governments across the world on e-governance projects.

Both will discuss other measures of co-operation aimed at creating a more enabling environment for adoption of IT in India. Broadening language availability for the first-time PC users will also be a key talking point when the two explore new areas of collaboration.

During his recent visit to the US, Maran had sounded Gates about strategies the government had crafted to address the issue of the digital divide in India. “A series of in-depth discussions led to an agreement. As part of it, a pact for co-operation around IT security was formalised today. Another one will be discussed and is likely to be announced on Wednesday,” sources said.

The pacts are for collaboration in strategic areas, including plans ensuring affordable and language-based computing, accelerating IT literacy, facilitating adoption of e-governance at an accelerated pace and promoting research on Indian language computing technologies.

Microsoft has launched the Windows XP starter edition in Hindi and Tamil, as promised early this year. The option to use English, in addition to the Indian languages, has also been provided for the first time ever.

“The minister will take up the issue of speeding up the launch of such starter editions for speakers of seven more Indian languages. What could also be discussed is a special initiative under which schools change the way they impart education instructions. In all probability, this will be done through ICT-based learning,” sources said.

Microsoft had agreed to adopt 100 schools in six states initially to provide an interactive learning environment that, when combined with classroom PC and projectors, would provide an engaging and transformational learning experience for students in local language.

“No remarkable progress has been made on this initiative because states need to be involved. The minister is keen that Microsoft should discuss the project in states that provide conducive environment so that others can follow,” sources in the communications ministry said.

Microsoft had agreed to offer affordable access to technology in rural areas. The software major was required to support the government’s programme to establish 1,00,000 kiosks by offering a range of affordable products, services, advice, training and support.

“During his discussions with Gates, the minister is likely to stress on the development of a target-oriented road-map to achieve the objective,” sources said.

A special package of broadband and PCs, especially for the first-time users, at affordable monthly instalments has been unveiled but the progress of the plan has been glacial. The project requires the partnership of BSNL, MTNL, HCL, HP, SBI, ICICI and others. Microsoft would also provide its education content under this programme.

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