This is with reference to the article by Arvind Kumar titled ‘Kapil Sibal, the computer salesman who plays with other people’s money’, which appeared in DNA on November 1.
The article by is a vituperative and unwarranted attack on the human resources minister. It starts from a mindset of wanting to attack Sibal and then invents arguments that supports the mindset. A few facts need to be put in order.
We are moving towards a digital world and technology drives sustainable progress. The scourge of the 21st century will be digital illiteracy, which will deprive the marginalised and disadvantaged from being productive members of society.
Failure to empower our children with digital literacy will be a massive setback to the political and economic stability of the nation in the future. The rich would have resources that would provide them access to the digital world. The poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalised would be left behind. Akash is only meant to be an access device, it does not claim or wish to substitute the content of education. The digital world is a repository of knowledge. Every school and college today expects a child to access the digital world for preparing papers and projects.
If a large number of children are unable to obtain access to the digital world, you can well imagine that we would be pushing those who are already disadvantaged into a deeper morass.
Let me take you through the journey how Akash came into being. Akash is the product of the National Mission on Education through ICT. The NMEICT was a programme enunciated in the 11th plan (2007-2012) to supplement education using technology as a medium. One of the components of the scheme was to provide a computer to poor children from disadvantaged and marginalised sections of society.
Considering the cost of a computer and the resources available, it would have either led to a few children being empowered with a large number being excluded or because of the amount of subsidy being so tiny as to be immaterial thereby naturally excluding all deserving children. This is when ‘out of box’ thinking started.
What if we are able to leverage the technology strengths through the IITs and IT companies in the country to produce a ‘computer’ that would be truly low cost. The exercise to produce Akash arose from the need to match available resources with the requirement of reaching out to every child. Akash is a product of over two years of work done in the IIT system specifically IIT, Jodhpur, IIT Kanpur and IIScs as well as a few private companies who collaborated for the benefit of larger public good.
A number of people scoffed at the idea of a low cost access-cum-computing device and I am sure the writer is one of them. When we actually ended up delivering such a device, the writer and other of his ilk turn to be doomsayers eager to prove the inability of the Indian system to come up with a truly empowering device. It is in this misplaced thought that the writer of the piece has gone about to compose this article with a personal attack on Sibal to dissuade the minister and ministry from going ahead.
Sibal does not claim to be an innovator or entrepreneur. All he has done is to provide an umbrella for the foremost Indian education institutions to work in collaboration with the private sector to think out of the box and come up with a device that can truly change the face of the education system.
A lot will have to be done to provide quality content but if access is made available I am sure the innovative and creative ‘energies’ of our academia would be unleashed to deliver quality content. Innovation in India, which the writer fails to understand, has been rooted in scale and frugality. The Rs1 sachet was no new innovation but it helped in reaching consumer products to rural areas. The mobile telephony sector through its low cost systems has been able to reach out to millions, truly empowering them. Akash follows in the same genre.
There is a lot to be set right in various services that are available to the aam admi but sceptics like Arvind Kumar scoff at enthusiastic and eager steps that are taken for the benefit of public good. We hope that the future will prove him wrong.
The writer is director, media, HRD, Press Information Bureau, Govt of India