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Dec 12, 2002
The Divide closes by a few more inches

Three recent stories confirm that the simpler folk of India are taking to information technology more quickly than the phrase ‘digital divide’ would have you believe.

The first pointer emerged during the IT Rural Quiz held in the first week of Nov,2002 in Bangalore by Tata Consultancy Services [TCS]. Let us first note that this was the third instalment of the annual event. Entry was limited to students outside Karnataka’s major towns. 48,000 entry forms were received—up from 42,000 last year. On the Quiz Day 3000 selected kids packed the hall. Clearly, rural parents in India are discerning consumers of career choices. They see changes all around them in communications and administrations. Prosperity in families led by IT sector jobs is a clincher for them.

The second story now making the rounds is from ‘Bihar’ - a word that puts you in the mind to receive the most backward tale. “The Week” magazine on Nov 24 profiled Patwa Toli a weavers’ village in Bihar that has so far clocked 100 IIT and NIT graduates. The numbers are likely to grow, as there is a coaching assembly line whirring away. It all started with Jitendra Kumar who left the village in 1991 for an IIT and made it to the USA in 1997. Before he left he had tutored over 60 boys to get into these premium institutions. Read the full story -- it’s an inspiring piece on how India functions. If this can happen in Bihar, can other states be far behind?

Finally, a report in the Hindu on Dec 2, has Dr. Sugata Mitra of NIIT saying that the real problem of inducting IT in rural areas is not language but infrastructure. It has been the politicians’ pet peeve that software applications are exclusively in English leaving rural India out of the loop. It seems it would be better if they went short on this speech theme and hastened to provide reasonably reliable electricity supply. The Hindu report quotes Dr.Mitra as saying, “Rural kids with no formal education, are able to create pictures and animation with the standard Windows software in a couple of hours even without understanding a word of English. With intuitive flair for handling icons and pictures they master most common PC applications on their own. Language is not the barrier - it is the challenge to create a PC that will work with little or no electricity in areas of high temperature, humidity and dust.” Dr.Mitra’s conclusions came at the end of a NIIT programme to showcase the benefits of IT to 200,000 citizens in India and 28 other countries. The programme ran for a month ending on Dec 2,2002, the World Computer Literacy Day.

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