“Lower city” learning; Educating the masses:
In July of this year, I visited Mumbai after an interesting online discussion with Mr. Shekhar Kapur, who is well known internationally for making films that leave a message besides entertaining audiences. He is working on an upcoming film about one natural resource that we take for granted; Water, and how wars may be fought over it in the not too distant future.
We visited a potential location for some scenes that may feature in the “lower city” part of the story. The half day walk with cameras took us through an interesting location, with its maze like winding alleys and the busy people that live there. A visit to one of the simple houses was what left a lasting impression on my mind… that of a little girl with her school uniform and school bag ready for the next school day.
Study Street, Mumbai:
She was one of the luckier ones, her house though simple and compact, looked roomy and probably gave her enough quiet space to study. I later learnt that not all are so lucky in even a developed city like Mumbai. There is a place dubbed “Study Street” where those who are less fortunate, have to make their way every night to study under the green phosphor of street lights.
It is thanks to the street lamp that the lower city, the masses…the future of the country, study.
What if we could make this Street Lamp do more for them…?
The $35 Laptop, by Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)
Google Books and the $35 Laptop
It is hard not to imagine the potential here!. A $35 Laptop is now a reality in India. This could mean there would be no need to lug around a bag full of books, and is set to revolutionize the way education proceeds in this country, who’s engineering prowess makes it’s mark felt in almost every developed country in the world. There is hardly any Institute or R&D lab worth mentioning worldwide that does not have Indian brain cells contributing to it somehow.
Yet it mostly starts with places like “Study Street” and the will power to move ahead. Can Google Books, the single most noble undertaking from Google (in my opinion), along with Mr. Kapil Sibal’s $35 Laptop be the “game changer” to educating the masses?
Google books has a huge library of knowledge online for FREE. There are books digitized from some of the most prestigious libraries in the world, that generously agreed to this mammoth knowledge initiative. This makes knowledge and information on every conceivable subject available online. There are even books in the Indian national language :Hindi:
“Study street” could break the stigma of every Indian child having to graduate in engineering or law, and allow them choice to explore perhaps Screen Writing for a career in intelligent and mold breaking Bollywood films
A Digital Lamp-Post E-library:
If the Lamp-posts on places such as “Study Street” were ‘adopted’ by big IT corporations or a telecom provider in India, and WIFI enabled… we would have a Dual purpose Lamp-post. It would provide lighting for the street children down at Study Street to read their books or to see the screen of a $35 laptop, and the same lamppost could be a wireless access point to free online resources and knowledge bases such as Google Books.
- A limited radius Wifi Access point and router can be embedded in a weather-proof casing and powered from the Lamp-post itself. This could be a netbook or a 3G router. The radius can be set to be any distance around the Lamp-post itself, so as to maintain signal strength and to promote the gathering of people as in a collaborative and traditional library type environment. This helps in sharing and social interaction between users…the true spirit of learning
- The wifi gateway if running from a netbook can be set to restrict access to only select online resources such as Google Books or similar library offerings, so as to prevent abuse of the free facility. It would not allow connection to any other web resources such as websites or gaming sites etc.
- Power for the Wifi Access point or a Netbook acting as an access point could be drawn directly from the lamp-posts power source.
The idea for the Digital lamppost came from a more futuristic idea written a while ago for the advertising agencies: Mixed Reality Billboards. It now provides the seed for a much more realistic goal… that of education and the spread of knowledge via bridging a Virtual world (an e-library) and bringing it into the Real world… the Lower City’s quest for knowledge.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives are a big priority for the rich Indian IT giants. There are programs of merit run by most of these corporations. It is the hope that they pick up, improve and fund such seed ideas, use the collective intellect of institutions such as the IIT and iron out any obstacles in implementing futuristic yet practical ideas to help educate the masses.
It seems on the surface that the big IT corporations don’t innovate or “invent” enough. They operate on the same BPO priniciples of call centers… sourcing out projects internationally, and then executing them to the satisfaction of overseas clients.
It is time that intellect from institutions such as IIT be supported in the country, and not lost to local BPO’ized or supposed “Chop Shop like” operations or worse…lead to a brain drain of intellect moving overseas to more fertile creative pastures.
Such talent as the ones who built the $35 laptop, need to be nurtured, given incentive to carry out R&D, and allowed to take risks. It is time that India encourages questions that inventors and risk takers ask, that of “WHEN” and “HOW” instead of… “why” and “how much”.