India’s poorest district has been offered a helping hand by one of its premier engineering institutes.
IIT-Bombay has offered free audio-visual tutorial-based training in information technology in Odisha’s Nabarangpur, which has among the lowest socio-economic indicators in the country and is grappling with an implosive skilling deficit.
The project enables the use of spoken tutorials to teach free and open source software in regional languages at three different levels of expertise: beginner, intermediate and advanced. If the initiative takes off successfully, those who complete these courses may even be able to purchase specially developed laptops priced at around Rs 7,500.
“We have got in touch with the district administration about this. The project will help students get better marks in examinations and increase employment avenues,” IIT-Bombay’s Prof Kannan M Moudgalya, who is spearheading the initiative, told The Indian Express.
When contacted, the District Collector’s office in Nabarangpur confirmed the offer and said that a “coordinator” from the Government Polytechnic College will likely be deputed to liaise with IIT-Bombay for the “smooth rollout” of the project.
Nabarangpur is the focus of a year-long assignment launched by The Indian Express on August 15, 2015, to track poverty and transformation in India’s poorest district. This newspaper had reported on September 5 about the yawning gap between demand and supply of trained labour in the district, which has just four degree colleges — none of them run by the Government — and one Industrial Training Institute (ITI).
Of the 32 students who cleared their two-year electronics-mechanical certificate course last year at the ITI in Umerkote, 60 km from the district headquarters, only three landed jobs. A majority are tribals from an extremely backward belt, almost all of them hobbled by lack of confidence, poor communication skills and “weak basic education”.
The IIT-Bombay project includes audio-video demonstrations dubbed in local languages and targets schoolchildren, college students, working and retired professionals, housewives, teachers, trainers, research scholars, and software users and developers.
The courses, training, day-to-day guidance and certificates under the project named FOSSEE — an acronym for Free Open Source Software for Education — are available free of cost, said Prof Moudgalya.
“The spoken tutorial project is about teaching and learning a free and open source software, such as Linux, Scilab, LaTeX, PHP & MySQL, Java, C/C++, LibreOffice, by way of an easy video tool — spoken tutorials. It is highly conducive to self-learning,” he said.
Moudgalya is a professor of Chemical Engineering, Systems and Control, and Educational Technology at IIT-Bombay, and is “also focussed on spreading education on a massive scale”.
According to him, the tutorial has been tried out by an estimated 9 lakh students and teachers across 65 universities in all states, including students from the rural areas of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.
“As one gets started, any student or faculty can master the FOSS and also get certificates — Silver/Learner’s and Gold (based on clearing an assessment test). Once the project is rolled out, a second step involves a plan by IIT-B to make available a low-cost laptop that it has developed, dubbed as the “FOSSEE laptop”.
Currently in the pilot phase, the laptop is funded by the National Mission on Education through Information, Communication and Technology and aims to promote IT literacy and the usage of FOSS apps, and is priced around Rs 7,500. “It has already been tried out in IIT Bombay on first-year BTech students,” Prof Moudgalya said.
According to him, the roadmap for Nabarangpur involves a schedule to firm up a tentative timeline for the launch of the spoken tutorial-based IT training, starting with one or a few educational institutions, and then expanding the courses to schools and junior colleges in a progressive manner.
These tutorials were launched in July 2011 and is currently deployed nationwide in degree colleges, polytechnics, ITIs and even schools, NGOs, government offices and some corporates.
The training is done using a website that is a hub of tutorial classes, coupled with original software of programming, animation, graphics, EDA (electronic design automation) tools, computational software, utility software, software for schools students and others. The users have to select and download the software, install it and start practicing.
The situation at educational institutions in Nabarangpur is reflected at the ITI, where students are faced with the situation of classes not being held because of lack of teachers. “External intervention in the local language, especially during periods when regular teachers are not available, would be a big help,” said B K Dalai, a part-time guest instructor at ITI, Umerkote.