India: Post Script

By Ananya Guha

How can technology change a country instantly when over 50% of the country, if not more do not have access to the internet? How can we have smart cities when roads are undeveloped and months are spent digging them, and the coffers of contractors being filled copiously? Connectivity is important, but first road and rail connectivity should priorities internet connectivity. Internet connectivity will come with concomitant development in spheres of health and education. Why is the investment in education much less than other countries such as China? What is the health care scenario? Our Prime Minister before drawing up strategies for cashless transaction must first understand that there should be cash first for the poor, who in the mire of poverty will not comprehend the use of technology for transaction. It is sad but true that no attention is paid to slum dwellers, rag pickers and street children. Education is only for the affordable. Literacy is measurable only in terms of signing names. No proper thrust is given to vocational of education, although there is a lot of talk on skills development. How are we going to organize the unorganized sector? Have we looked at the concept of prior knowledge and certification for skilled workers? The unorganized sector is a hub of exploitation, where the workers are cheap labor bought by business houses.

In the midst of this all talk about cashless transaction becomes misnomer if not anachronistic. Classic example of putting the cart before the regal horse! Again health care is abysmal. Has any appraisal been done regarding Public Health Systems in the country, in rural areas? Are the BPL really benefiting from welfare measures? What are the other welfare measures that can be taken up pervasively?

The pervasiveness and diversities of a country are perhaps not taken into account before policies are declared. It is only political expediency   which is in currency. The diversity of a country not only in terms of culture, but in the entire geographical and agrarian structures must be considered even before we think of radicalizing things with the help of the internet and computer. Levels of disparities and levels of comparative forwardness must also be accountable for fixing matrices to further development.

What about the money invested for Community Information Centers which were launched with fanfare? How effective were they? What is going on there as well as in e-choupals? Can these be spread across the country in a concerted manner, for day today transactions by the commoner? Is this going on? The Government must bring out a white paper on such crucial use of technology in day- to- day lives.

Palliatives for senior citizens are not palliative enough for restoration of an anarchic social setup. The talk of cleanliness is redundant when people still defecate and urinate openly? Why is there no talk of Sulabh International which did pioneering work to have toilets all over the country? Recycling old wine in new bottles is at best populist.

However it is undoubtedly technology that can bring about a radical change in education. It is this radicalizing of education, by means of the internet and world wide web which can have an impact on education. Having a few smart classrooms in urban schools is again making education elitist. The Aakash tablets and One Laptop per child mission has to be recycled and reinvigorated. These are imaginative experiments but they must go to rural schools and classrooms. Again the internet accessibility is the moot question. One hears that BSNL is supposed to have wi-fi hot spots in the country. If that is so there should be an arduous stepping up process phase wise in the country. The accessible networks are the crucial factor, for which a blue print must be affected, or the use of internet mobile. Subhranshu Chaudhury a journalist who works in Chattisgarh among tribal folk has developed a Bultoo model in rural areas, using Blue tooth for engendering services on the mobile for the rural community. This model which has drawn appreciation internationally can also be used for education. Education, literacy, numeracy are of prime importance especially in rural areas, so that people learn to improve the quality of life and more than eke out a living. Then only other steps can follow like cashless transactions. But without meaningful literacy or education, there is only scope for more exploitation. To handle technology one must be literate.

The radicalization of education can take place undoubtedly with the help of technology, by which both teachers and students can handle it creatively and tap free and open resources. Students can create their own e books and the learner at a distance will be severed and not feel isolated in the process. Especially for children and young learners, the internet can become a fascinating tool of experience for learning, social networking sites and their abuse, distinctly apart.

So, although the emphasis on technological literacy is a good idea, it is also presumptuous, because the pervasiveness of technology in a vast country, such as India must be assessed and gauged. In hilly terrains, in ravines and deep gorges where there are settlements, where is the question of using debit cards? Once again we are thinking of the elites and the middle classes. Where people are impervious to poverty, there can be no development. And in underdeveloped economies, the transition to better economy must be made and only then technology can be available. This may be a gradual process but the beginnings to be made cannot be haphazard but systemic. Only then, slowly there will be the dawn of an era.

About the Author: Ananya S Guha lives and writes from Shillong in North East India.

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