A digital revolution was quietly unfolding in the sylvan hamlets of Sindhudurg district as Manav Sadhan Vikas Sanstha (MSVS) launched two Information technology related projects Dyanada and Vicharganga to provide a platform for basic computer literacy among rural children, and also to make them Internet savvy on their own accord, irrespective of their social, cultural or economic backgrounds. Dr. APJ Kalam inaugurated the projects in mid April in 2002 a few days before he became the President of India.
Started as part of the Rural Knowledge Movement (Grameen Gyan Abhiyan), the projects involved setting up of Minimally Invasive Education (MIE) kiosks in five villages of Sindhudurg district in Coastal Maharashtra. These villages were Banda, Deobagh, Shirgaon, Kalse, and Talawade, where the occupations of the people are primarily fishing and agriculture. Of the 42 first computers kiosks installed throughout the country, 10 were installed in Sindhudurg.
Apart from offering localized content and application, the cyber kiosks also offered several services such as land records, birth and death certificates, health and educational services, information about agriculture practices, farm produce prices, and also information about various Central and State Government schemes to underprivileged rural and semi urban dwellers.
MSVS’s initiative, which aimed at bridging the “digital divide”, was launched in collaboration with ICICI Ltd.’s Social Initiatives Group and NIIT’s Centre for Research and Cognitive Systems in 2002. Unmanned kiosks were set up to provide the rural children with an exposure to computers. NIIT provided the hardware and software support, while MSVS undertook the task of acquiring space and telephone connections for this project. ICICI Ltd.’s Social Initiatives Group donated RS 30 lakhs for this project. The Centre for Knowledge Societies certified these MIE kiosks on September 14, 2002. The community itself undertook both, the supervision as well as the maintenance of these cyber kiosks. The computer kiosks were installed in schools. Children played around with the computers, playing games and music, and in the process learning to create and save computer files, and even repairing the machine.
Each kiosk in the Sindhudurg district housed 2 computers and incorporated special design features for public access, tropical conditions, remote monitoring, and children’s usage. The MIE kiosks offered an English language Microsoft Windows environment. Three kiosks were connected to the Internet via VSAT. Access to Internet content was also provided in an offline form. The offline content included educational games and freeware from the Internet, mostly in English. The kiosks were placed in playgrounds or close to schools. Rural children between the ages of 8-14 used these kiosks, many with no previous exposure to computers. Since the local language was Marathi, this was also the language of instruction in the village schools, and English was learned as a second language from Grade 1.
It was revealed that children who had learned at MIE kiosks were able to complete this curricular examination without being taught the subject. They scored only marginally lower than children who had been taught the ‘Computers’ curriculum in school throughout the school year.
A local computer teacher, Shamshuddin Attar of Shirgaon high school in Deogad block, where MSVS had installed a MIE kiosk, reported a saving of 10% of his teaching time in the computers class because his students had been exploring at the kiosk. “When I started teaching (the syllabi) the children had already learnt part of it. So I didn’t need to teach it again. I told them about the CPU (Central Processing Unit), Keyboard, Mouse and they said they had already seen it. They were more enthusiastic to learn how the computer operated,” said Attar.