Enablers and Initiatives for Digital Inclusion in Pune

Chapter 8

INTRODUCTION

The previous chapter has pointed out some of the factors that enable internet access amongst the study population, including higher education and possession of ICT skills, financial resources to support the cost of infrastructure/device as well as internet services, easy access to enabling infrastructure, particularly for women, and quality/speed of internet service.

This chapter documents state and civil society policies and initiatives aimed at providing these enablers – especially infrastructure provisioning and public access points, e-governance services, and digital literacy training – with particular reference to socially-excluded populations in the city.

Section 1 introduces the chapter. Section 2 provides an overview of Maharashtra state policies and initiatives aimed at digital access, digital inclusion and online delivery of public services. Section 3 discusses the ambitious universal access plan Unwire Pune. Sections 4 and 5 highlight e-governance and digital inclusion policies and practices adopted by the local administrations – the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC). Section 6 discusses public internet access provisioning in the city, by private enterprise and public-private partnerships. Section 7 details initiatives for digital literacy capacity-building at the adult and school levels. The chapter ends with a mention of some civil society initiatives aimed at digital inclusion and empowerment at the community level.

MAHARASHTRA’S E-GOVERNANCE INITIATIVES

Maharashtra’s e-governance policy was published on September 23, 2011 and the implementation plan issued on April 10, 2012 (Government of Maharashtra [no date]).

The policy provides for synergy across various departments of the state government by developing a core e-governance infrastructure that includes a central data repository, a state-wide area network, and various online services such as a payment gateway for payment of taxes. This infrastructure is to be used to promote delivery of services to citizens at their homes or through a network of common service centres (CSCs) which are attended by staff. It also aims to encourage increased public participation in governance through online interfaces. In this policy, 0.5% of the Plan and Non-Plan budgets of all departments is mandated for e-governance (Directorate of Information Technology, Government of Maharashtra, 2014, p 43).

The MahaOnline portal was set up in 2010 as a joint venture between the government of Maharashtra and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd to standardise the delivery of government-to-citizen (G2C) services across all districts. Twenty-five state departments have been integrated with MahaOnline. Marathi has been made the first language for all e-governance services. The Directorate of Information Technology, along with the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, Pune, has set up a centre of excellence for Marathi, which works to understand the language requirements for various projects, down to the taluka level, and suggest web and desktop applications supporting Unicode Marathi. The Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration in Pune has been given primary responsibility for training government personnel in e-governance applications.

Sixteen revenue services, including for issue of certificates of income, residency, age, nationality, domicile, solvency, birth and death, have been standardised across all districts. Application forms, supporting documents, approval processes, fees and certificate formats have been made uniform. E-tendering has been made mandatory for all state departments and government agencies for tenders of more than Rs 10 lakh (State of E-governance in Maharashtra, 2014).

In 2012, the office of the Inspector General of Registration and Stamps put all registration-related data – for stamp duty, document registration, conveyance, valuation of property, marriage etc – on a central server through the Stamp And Registration Assistance Through Helpline Information (SARATHI) system. In 2014, e-registration was introduced for leave and license agreements.

In August 2014, the Maharashtra government introduced an online system to maintain updated and accurate land records. Initially introduced in one taluka in each of the 35 districts of the state, the system was to cover the entire state by October 2014. Also rolled out state-wide in 2014 was the Maha Digital Locker plan, a citizens’ online repository of documents, certificates and degrees commonly required for application to government services, entitlements or jobs. This is expected to save citizens repeated visits to government offices in order to get these documents. Government offices are connected to the Digital Locker, thus speeding up the verification process (Nambiar, 2014).

However, the Maharashtra e-governance policy does not mandate any special efforts or initiatives for universal internet access, or for access for the urban poor and marginalised. The PMC and the PCMC have been more proactive in this regard.

UNWIRE PUNE: UNIVERSAL ACCESS AT THE CITY LEVEL

As far back as 2006 the Unwire Pune project planned to offer wireless broadband services all across Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. This ambitious project was conceptualised by the PMC, with Intel Technologies Ltd as the chief technology and programme management consultant and Microsense as developer of the network. Intel was to deploy the Wi-Fi and WiMax1 technologies required, with 10 WiMax towers and 800 Wi-Fi hotspots across the city. The PMC had set aside Rs 7 crore for the project. The initial plan was to give free access to low-bandwidth users and charge for high-bandwidth usage.

The then Pune municipal commissioner, Nitin Kareer, whose brainchild the Unwire Pune project was, is quoted as saying, ‘As much as providing basic facilities such as sanitation, sewage, roads, streetlights, health, etc, PMC would like to provide basic IT infrastructure such as stable internet connectivity to its citizens to enhance their overall outlook by exploiting the vast information pool and advantages of internet. This will surely be a huge differentiator for Pune city and will enhance the status of moving Pune towards becoming the IT capital of the country,’ (Kakroo, 2013).

The plan, however, never got off the ground.

Critics worldwide have asked whether governments should be getting into the telecom business at all. Some feel that public networks distort the market by competing with private firms. Others argue that local governments cannot fix potholes, let alone run telecom networks. Yet others worry that governments may subsidise the cost of private sector entry, benefitting private providers rather than the public.

On the question of public provisioning of high-quality and affordable internet services to the digitally, socially and economically excluded, PG Bhandare, deputy general manager of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), Pune, said in an interview for this report, ‘BSNL would be glad to provide cheap internet connections for the economically weaker sections if the municipal corporation were to waive or provide a substantial discount on the reinstatement charges,’ (reinstatement charges are levied as the cost of repairing roads after they are dug up by telecom providers for cabling).

According to Bhandare, BSNL Broadband has tied up with Quadgen Wireless, a US-based company, for providing wireless internet services across a number of cities in India. Fifty locations have been identified in Pune for internet hotspots. These will be paid services, with users buying a scratch-card available at local shops. Bhandare advocates the expansion of such hotspots to areas where economically weaker sections reside, with the urban local bodies subsidising the infrastructure costs of private companies.

E-GOVERNANCE INITIATIVES OF THE PMC

Common Service Centres (CSCs) (with staff) across the city, managed on a public-private partnership basis, where citizens can make online applications for various public services and schemes.

Online services for property tax payments, building permissions, registration of complaints, amongst others.

Online citizen feedback mechanism. This website-plus-app project in collaboration with Janwani, a Pune-based group concerned with civic issues, records citizens’ experiences with PMC departments so that corrective action can be taken. Civic officials have been directed to use mobile applications like WhatsApp to communicate with the public. Mobile numbers of key officials have been put on the PMC website (Times of India, September 23, 2014).

App to provide information on women’s welfare schemes. This was developed in 2015 by the Urban Community Development Department (UCDD). Since 2000, the PMC has introduced 18 welfare schemes for educational and entrepreneurial skills of women from underprivileged families. The app uses a Marathi interface and provides a link for download of application forms. The PMC is working on more such apps supporting PMC services (Pune Mirror, March 19, 2015).

Online application for schools. Additionally, Pune has introduced an online application process for admission to government and government-aided schools under the Right to Education Act’s 25% reservation for students from economically-backward classes. Helpdesks are set up by the PMC at select schools every year to assist parents in submitting their applications and documents online. The Regional Transport Office in the city launched an online appointment system in 2014 which requires applicants to reserve a date and time slot for taking driving tests.

Website to demystify the civic budget. In 2016, a website will be launched to demystify the civic budget, in collaboration with Janwani in Pune and another civic group, Janagraha in Bengaluru. The portal will aim to inform citizens on how their money is utilised, and enable them to comment on and participate in the annual budgeting process of the civic body through a dedicated web portal maintained by Janwani.

The CSCs have the potential to be especially useful to the urban poor. However, there is no information available on the extent to which these e-services are actually accessed by, and benefit, economically weaker sections. Janwani acknowledges that users of the participatory online process that it initiated are from better-off groups.

In most years the PMC has allocated less than 0.5% of its budget to e-governance; the actual spending may be less than the budgeted amount. However, increased budgetary allocations for ICT are proposed from the Financial Year 2015-16. Plans are also being made to e-link over 40 departments of the corporation so that, for instance, if the building permission department grants permission for a construction, the property tax department is automatically notified and alerted.

INTERNET INITIATIVES OF THE PCMC

E-governance in the PCMC

The PCMC’s e-governance project, initiated as part of mandatory reforms under the national mission mode project on e-governance in municipalities within the ambit of JNNURM, won the National e-Governance GOLD Award in 2011-12, and is considered a model for several city/state governments.

The PCMC’s integrated e-governance system provides several services online: citizens can apply for and receive birth/death certificates online; hospitals can register birth/death events on the PCMC portal, with an automated approval workflow and medical officers signing each record digitally; citizens can view and pay property tax online; business license applications and approval workflows are also online, with payment accepted at CSCs. Citizens can submit plans online for building permissions and these are scrutinised automatically for compliance with regulations. The single-window system also issues no-objection certificates from the fire, garden and drainage departments (E-Governance, PCMC [no date]).

‘The largest benefit of the new integrated e-governance system is noticeable in procurement… All tenders are approved and digitally signed and published online. Bids along with relevant documents are accepted online only and are secure and encrypted to prevent fraud and manipulation,’ (E-Governance, PCMC [no date]: p15).

The System of Assisting Residents and Tourists through Helpline Information (SARATHI) was launched in August 2013 to help citizens register online complaints regarding civic services. The SARATHI helpline (tel: 88880 06666) receives an average of 150 calls and 400 visits per day from the 19 lakh residents of Pimpri-Chinchwad (Shelke, 2014). These complaints relate to birth and death registration, water supply, non-functioning of street lamps, missing drainage covers or overflowing garbage, dead animals, cleaning of roads, etc. Some 4.18 lakh people had used SARATHI as of May 2015 (Times of India, May 17, 2015).

A team of seven handles SARATHI, working in two shifts between 7 am and 10 pm under the supervision of two senior civic officers. Queries are attended to immediately, while complaints are registered online, voice-recorded and forwarded to the concerned department head for action. After fixing the problem the relevant civic official is to call the complainant. A flowchart of each call is maintained and monitored online by senior officers. The municipal commissioner can access any complaint online, in voice or written format.

In August 2014, the PCMC launched eight touchscreen e-kiosks at public locations, in order to reach out to those who were not online and did not know the helpline number. At these unmanned kiosks, which are run with sponsorship from banks, citizens can get information about public services and also register their grievances. The PCMC has 24 CSCs at present and plans to scale them up to 64, one in each ward. It also plans to tie up CSCs with the Maharashtra state government’s e-seva kendras so that all governance services can be accessed by citizens at a single location.

Public Wi-Fi project in the PCMC

The PCMC is part of a consortium (which includes funding partner Ford Foundation, tech partner Telxess and research partner CCDS) that is implementing India’s first public Wi-Fi project covering an entire slum settlement. The pilot project provides free Wi-Fi access to all 1,300-plus households in Mahatma Phule Nagar. This settlement is one of CCDS’s research locations and was selected by CCDS for the pilot. A training centre has been set up within the basti to provide internet access on computers as well as capacity-building/training in computer and internet basics (see Box 8.1). The PCMC is open to extending the Phule Nagar public access project to several other slums.

Box 8.1 Wi-Fi Nagari

In early-2015, 1,300 families, or more than 4,000 residents of Mahatma Phule Nagar, a slum cluster near the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation estate in Bhosari, Pimpri-Chinchwad, got 24-hour Wi-Fi connectivity. The pilot project is India’s first Wi-Fi project for an urban slum. The project is managed by a consortium that includes Telxess Consulting Services (technical and implementing partner), Ford Foundation (supporting partner), CCDS (research partner, responsible for selection of project location and compilation of base data on socio-economic conditions and internet access), and the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (facilitating partner).

The pilot was conceived as a model for overcoming barriers to internet access in marginalised areas of the city where few families have computers or even smartphones, where there is poor connectivity and no wired broadband provisioning, and where many still do not know of the existence of the internet or have the ICT skills or autonomy to use the internet.

With a leased line from a private telecom service provider, a network of routers perched on rooftops across the settlement provides connectivity in all the lanes and bylanes as well as inside some of the homes. The settlement is spread over less than 1 sq km. Data transfers are free for the first 18 months of the pilot for all users with valid user names and passwords.

By mid-2015, over 400 residents of Phule Nagar had registered to use the network, most of them connecting via mobile phones.

The pilot project acknowledges that addressing digital inequality will require more than just providing technological access; it also needs to build the digital literacy of those who have never used an internet-linked device or who know very little of what the internet offers. Especially important is providing a safe learning environment for women and girls who are discouraged from going online in patriarchal environments. A full-fledged computer and internet literacy centre has therefore been set up in the basti, which runs three-month certificate courses in batches throughout the day.

By July 2015, more than 300 residents had been trained in computer and internet basics, the majority of them women and children with no prior exposure to computers and internet. Despite the many daily batches, 112 applicants were waitlisted for the computer class. Within three months many women who had never used a computer before had made online purchases and helped their children with internet research for school projects. They were also demanding faster speeds and better connectivity within their homes.

PUBLIC INTERNET ACCESS POINTS

As noted in the chapter on modes of internet access, there are almost no wired internet connections in low-income settlements and few computers/laptops connected by dongles. Those who are online are mostly connected on mobile phones with data access, with the majority using inexpensive 2G packs. A number of private telecom service providers as well as the state-run BSNL offer wired broadband services to Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad. Often, their cables run just 50-100 metres away from the entrance to a low-income settlement. Many cable TV operators who cater to low-income households also offer wired broadband through their cables. But charges for wired broadband start at roughly Rs 600 per month, which makes it unaffordable for most low-income households. Cable TV operators as well as some private telecom providers in the city, interviewed by CCDS, state that there should be a minimum of 40-50 households in a basti asking for wired broadband before it is worth their while to extend their services into the settlement. This demand is not forthcoming, since consumers find data access on their mobile phones more affordable and convenient, even if it is slower.

One cable TV provider in Janata Vasahat stated that he used to provide six-seven wired internet connections in the settlement earlier. He has withdrawn the service since, ‘I did not get enough response for broadband connections as it is not affordable to people here. People prefer internet on mobile or on dongle because it is cheaper’.

Cybercafés

In the absence of public internet access points within their settlements, people who do not have computers for high speed internet access go to cybercafés when they need to submit online forms, download data for school projects, apply for jobs, government entitlements or college admissions, make printouts, scan images etc. Those who have mobile data access but need to use the internet on the computer for more interactive applications also depend on cybercafés.

Ten years ago the city had one or two busy cybercafés on every street, offering internet access at hourly rates. Mobile internet access over the last few years has cut into their clientele and forced many cybercafés to down shutters. By 2014, only 230 cybercafés remained (Rohatgi, 2014).

This decline is in keeping with national and state trends. According to the Cyber Cafe Association of India, there were 27,444 cybercafés in Maharashtra in 2008, but only 14,000 by 2014 (Rohatgi, 2014). Besides declining business after the mobile internet boom, cybercafé owners report security surveillance and red-tapism as reasons for closure.

Resource-poor users such as those from the study settlements are the hardest hit by the closure of cybercafés and the absence of any other public access points. Coffee shops, airports, the campuses of elite educational institutions and similar Wi-Fi environments do not cater to the needs of the low-income populations under study.

None of the study settlements has a cybercafé within the basti. In most cases a cybercafé is located 500 metres to 1 km away, a distance that women in particular are not always allowed to travel. Charges range from Rs 20 to 40 per hour. Clients from the study settlements report that they use the cybercafés for social networking, gaming, e-mailing and downloading songs, but equally for printing and scanning facilities, and for school projects, submitting forms and booking tickets. Additionally, the staff who run these centres serve as information intermediaries, mentors and translators for users who are unfamiliar with the internet or need translation from the English language.

The owner of one cybercafé near a large settlement in the city says that approximately 25% of his clientele is from Wadarvadi, and the rest from middle class localities nearby. Fourteen computers share a 1.5 mbps connection from a private telecom provider, so downloading is slow and heavy files cannot be downloaded at all. Most of the clients from the settlement are men in the 18-30 age-group. They come in to play online and offline games, check their Facebook accounts, download songs, and fill online forms. Some come to submit PCMC online tenders. Just two or three girls from the settlement come in regularly, mostly to research school/college projects or fill admission forms. They use Facebook only after they have finished their work. One young girl comes in regularly to apply for government jobs. The girls don’t have mobile phones, though many of the boys have smartphones. Many of these customers need assistance in filling online forms, and school drop-outs have greater difficulty in accessing the internet.

A strange class system has divided this cybercafé. Female clients from the middleclass neighbourhoods around the cybercafé have objected to the Wadarvadi boys peeping to see what they’re doing online. So now, one row of computers is for Wadarvadi residents and another row for other clients. This system, the owner says, ensures that the middleclass girls are not troubled by the Wadarvadi boys. The owner himself sees the customers from Wadarvadi as troublemakers who argue over payments and are a nuisance to other customers. He demands identity proof and has closed circuit TV at the café to regulate the activities of his customers.

Common Service Centres

The city administrations in Pune do not run any public internet centres where individuals may access the internet themselves. However, as mandated by the Maharashtra state policy, both the PMC and the PCMC operate Common Service Centres (CSCs) where citizens can apply for different e-governance services. The PCMC also offers unmanned e-kiosks where a limited menu offers information and links to websites connected with governance.

The government has awarded the contract for running CSCs to a private company which in turn provides licenses to individuals or agencies to run these CSCs as franchises all over Maharashtra.

Interviews with staff and franchise owners reveal that the CSCs in fact cater mostly to residents of low-income settlements. People in the CCDS study locations were aware of the CSCs and the services they offer. One of the CSCs reported that 40 to 50 people are served every day, with the number going up to 100 at the time of applications for admission to educational institutions, when various certificates are required.

CSCs provide national, state and local government services. The most common services people apply for here are issue of a ration card, addition or deletion of names from ration cards, certificates (domicile, caste, income, residence and senior citizen), affidavits (for the regional transport office or for name change), and applications (for national pension schemes, employment card or permission for holding cultural programmes). One of the CSCs also offers banking services and has recently started a Bank of Maharashtra counter to enable people to open bank accounts under the National Jan Dhan Yojana or National Mission for Financial Inclusion. This centre also provides online admission services for universities. Fees for services at the CSCs range from Rs 25-120. One franchisee admitted that he charged more than the government rate which is inadequate to sustain the running of the CSC.

The PMC claims that all its CSCs are functional, but visits to several centres tell a different story. According to Rahul Jagtap, head of the computer and statistics department, PMC, ‘Whenever there is a report of a kiosk being inactive, it is because of road-digging or development/expansion of an area’.

STATE-RUN DIGITAL LITERACY TRAININGS AND SERVICES

MKCL’s MS-CIT courses

Advertisements for the popular three-month MS-CIT (Maharashtra State Certificate in Information Technology) course, formulated by the Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited (MKCL), are plastered all over low-income settlements in the city. Young people are keen to complete the course because it is mandatory for application to government jobs.

MKCL is the nodal agency providing computer and digital literacy training in Maharashtra. Founded in 2002 by the state government’s department of higher and technical education, it operates through an extensive network of franchisees.

MKCL has 5,400-plus Authorised Learning Centres (ALC) across the state conducting the MS-CIT course, and 400 of them are in Pune district. Eight to 8.5 lakh students take the course across Maharashtra every year. Besides the MS-CIT course, MKCL also designs and offers courses in Tally, web programming and other computer applications.

The fee for the MS-CIT course is Rs 3,350, but the PMC waives the fee for students from families earning less than Rs 1 lakh annually, paying this to MKCL on behalf of the students.

The course material is available in Hindi, Marathi and English. Of the 132 hours of MS-CIT training, eight are devoted to use of the internet. No minimum qualification is required for MS-CIT. Even fourth standard students may take the course. All ALCs must meet MKCL’s standards for infrastructure and trainers.

Some 85 lakh students have taken the MS-CIT course so far, 55% male and 45% female. MKCL has also tied up with the UCDD of the PMC (set up in 1986 to address the needs of the urban poor) to run seven computer-related courses. The basic computer course covers word processing and use of the internet. UCDD awards the certificate for this basic course. UCDD does not charge any fee for candidates from families earning less than Rs 1 lakh annually either, but accepts a refundable deposit of Rs 500. This entitles the candidate to take five courses, of which typing and English are mandatory and three are optional. Similarly, the UCDD has tied up to run five PCMC vocational training centres.

MKCL also partners with the state education board to provide the IT literacy curriculum for students in Standards 1 to 4, and the MS-CIT course for students in Standards 5 to 7. MKCL provides all the learning material to 120 computer labs shared by more than 300 schools in Pune. Internet is part of the MS-CIT curriculum for schoolchildren as well. Most of the computer labs, according to MKCL, have internet connections but even if they don’t MKCL has developed a quasi-online system that provides the user a learning interface similar to that available online. The quasi-online system has been developed keeping in mind the needs of centres across Maharashtra, many of which have no connectivity.

Computer education at the school level

The PMC’s education department places substantial emphasis on computer literacy at the school level. The computer education programme was launched in 2008 to train students in basic IT skills. A total of 307 schools in 140 buildings across Pune City cater to 1 lakh students. Computer education is provided from Standard 1 onwards. The PMC has entered into a contract with MKCL, under which MKCL appoints 15 zonal officers per administrative ward to monitor and evaluate the schools in their zone. MKCL appoints the teaching staff for the computer classes. MKCL has prepared a basic computer literacy syllabus for Standards 1 to 4 and a special syllabus for Standards 5 to 7 which prepares them for the MS-CIT exam. Students must undergo 150 hours of computer training to be able to appear for the MS-CIT exam.

The PMC claims that all schools have computer laboratories with approximately 20 computers each. However, according to the deputy education officer, School Board, PMC, there are just 118 computer labs in the 140 buildings. In addition, each class has a strength of 40, which means students are required to share computers.

The PMC Education Board set up four e-learning schools in 2013 and another three in 2014. These schools do not conduct internet-linked online courses but they do use audio-visual learning material projected on LCD screens. At one of the e-learning schools, each class has an LCD screen. But the other schools have been provided around five LCDs screens each. Teachers have been trained to incorporate e-learning methodologies in the classroom. Three of the e-learning schools are English-medium. One is Marathi-medium but with the e-learning material in English. The PMC plans to add e-learning in four additional schools every year.

Comparison of e-learning in government, CSR- and trust-supported schools

CCDS visited 11 schools catering to children from low-income groups in the city: four regular PMC schools, two PMC e-learning schools, two CSR-supported government schools, and two schools and a madrassa run by a public trust.

The four regular PMC schools visited had poor ICT infrastructure. Two of them were being run from the same building in shifts to maximise the use of available infrastructure/resources. Though computer education at these schools begins from Standard 1 with information on the parts and functions of a computer, only in Standard 4 do children begin hands-on use. Half the computers in the common computer lab for the two schools were not working.

At another government school we visited, the computer lab was closed because the school was being renovated, and practical computer classes were suspended. We were told that students have an hour-long computer class once a week; they work in groups, or take turns to access one of the functional computers. This process allows for limited hands-on experience of computers.

These regular schools are also mandated to provide for e-learning and are equipped with an LCD TV in an ‘e-learning room’ where classes are to be held once or twice a week. At two of the schools visited, the e-learning classes were not being held, reportedly because the teachers had not received the audio-visual course material that is provided on pen drives from the education department.

Thus the best of intentions in providing for e-learning and computer literacy at the regular school level appear to be thwarted by poor implementation.

In comparison, the infrastructure and audio-visual teaching methodologies are markedly superior at the PMC’s e-learning schools, the schools run by the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society (MCES) for Muslims from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds, and government schools with special civil society/corporate initiatives.

E-learning schools: The PMC’s e-learning schools have well-maintained computer labs with 30-35 computers each, and LCD screens with projectors in classrooms (see Box 8.3 on the PMC’s Rajiv Gandhi E-learning Academy).

CSR-supported schools: The Pune-based company Thermax operates seven PMC schools where they recruit the teaching staff, manage maintenance and provide improved facilities for e-learning, computer training and internet connection. Young volunteers from the Teach for India initiative are placed at these schools.

One of the PMC’s vidyaniketan schools, meant for meritorious students, that has been adopted by Thermax over the last seven years, has an audio-visual room and a well-maintained computer lab where students take a 40-minute computer class twice a week. The computer lab has a broadband internet connection and students are assigned projects for which they are required to access the internet. Students are also allowed to use computers during the breaks and after school hours. Since the vidyaniketan has been adopted, the syllabus too has been redesigned.

The IT company Zensar supports computer laboratories in two PMC schools located in one building, one for boys and the other for girls. There was no computer education at these schools until Zensar set up the labs. There are 14 computers in each of the schools now, maintained by Zensar. Zensar’s initiative is limited to students of Standards 6 and 7, who are taught the Computer Masti program developed by IIT-Mumbai and InOpen technologies. Computer Masti has various levels but the students are taught up to Level Two, including Scratch and Animation, which helps them make creative school projects. Students of Standards 1 to 4 are not given practical training but are taught about computers with the help of LCDs installed in their classrooms.

Trust-supported schools: PMC-run Urdu-medium schools have been equipped with state-of-the-art computer laboratories by the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society, a trust which runs several educational institutions in the city. The foundation has taken responsibility for computer training at these schools, teaching the MS-CIT course and the Computer Masti program. Unlike the other PMC-run schools, all these schools have been provided with broadband internet.

Group discussions conducted with children at the schools – government, CSR and trust-supported – revealed marked differences in the students’ awareness of the internet and its uses as well as their confidence in using the internet, including for their school curriculum (see Box 8.2 on the Urdu Girls School and Box 8.3).

COMMUNITY-LEVEL INITIATIVES FOR COMPUTER LITERACY

In addition to state and local governments and the public-private partnerships in schools mentioned above, some NGO and CSR initiatives also focus on computer literacy and digital inclusion of the poor at the community level.

In 2014, Zensar started a community learning centre in partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), National Association of Software and Services Companies and the PMC in a low-income settlement in the Yerawada area of Pune. The centre aims to provide ICT training to at least one member of every household in the settlement and to enable them to access the internet. The course is designed by DEF and has seven learning modules. Currently, women and children from the community are enrolled at the centre.

Deepgriha Society has been running a training centre for youth in the 18-30 age-group since 2007. This is supported by the Tech Mahindra Foundation and is known as the Tech Mahindra SMART (Skills for Market Training) Centre. It offers a three-month course aimed at providing youth with income-generation skills. Training in computers and internet is an integral part of the course, along with spoken English.

The infrastructure is provided by Tech Mahindra. The centre’s computer lab has 26 computers where youth are taught in batches of 25 by trained staff and volunteers. Twenty-six batches have graduated from the course and many have found placements in data entry, telemarketing and similar jobs.

Box 8.2 Computer masti at Azam Campus

‘I teach whatever I learn in computer class to my younger brother and sister,’ says a grinning 12-year-old Nazia (not her real name). ‘This way, even if we are studying in different schools, our knowledge of computers is equal.’ Nazia studies at the Anglo Urdu Girls High School managed by the Maharashtra Cosmopolitan Education Society (MCES), at Azam Campus, Pune. MCES’s PA Inamdar Information and Communication Technology Academy of Pune (ICTAP) provides digital learning for students at all its institutes from Standard 1.

The MCES was established in 1948 to provide education to the economically, educationally and socially weaker sections of society. Eighty percent of their students are from poor Muslim families.

‘The digital divide is growing wider and soon there will be a section of society that will get further marginalised in a digitised world because of their limited access to digital learning and digital technologies,’ says MCES’s president, PA Inamdar. ‘We decided that we would provide digital education to every single student at a low cost so that they have the same opportunities as, or better than, students who belong to a more privileged part of society.’

Digital learning is compulsory for all four schools run by the MCES on Azam Campus, namely the HGM Azam Urdu Primary School, the Anglo Urdu Girls High School, the Anglo Urdu Boys High School and the English Primary School. ‘Twenty percent of class time per week is dedicated to digital learning,’ says Inamdar. ‘The students spend at least one hour of their day on the computer.’

Each institution on Azam Campus is equipped with a computer laboratory with a minimum of 40 computer systems. Over the last 10 years, over 2,800 networked computers have been set up on the campus. Campus-wide free Wi-Fi is provided at high speeds.

The computer science syllabus for the school level is based on the syllabi of the Maharashtra Knowledge Commission Ltd’s digital literacy course MS-CIT, the national IT literacy course ‘Course on Computer Concepts’ and the Computer Masti program formulated by IIT-Bombay and InOpen Technologies. The teachers of these courses are all trained annually at workshops at IIT-Bombay under the Computer Masti program. All the staff at Azam Campus, close to 1,800 teaching and non-teaching staff, have also passed the MS-CIT.

By the time they reach secondary school, the students are proficient at basic computer operations. ‘Close to 6,500 Urdu-medium students have passed the MS-CIT before Standard 8,’ says ICTAP academy director, Mumtaz Sayyed.

The ICTAP has also set up some 40 centres for free digital learning in various institutions in and around Pune including 21 Urdu-medium municipal corporation schools and several madrassas. The infrastructure, including the computers and internet connection, as well as the teaching staff, including one computer teacher and one spoken-English teacher, are provided by ICTAP. Students from the Azam Campus schools take part in national-level digital competitions like the National Cyber Olympiad.

Of around 27,000 students studying at Azam Campus, roughly 8,000 are students from Standards 1 to 12. ‘Most of the children who study at the MCES schools live in slum areas and are from minority communities,’ says Anglo Urdu Boys School principal, Sikandar Shaikh. ‘Our target is to provide quality education to even the poorest students.’

~ Ruchi Sawardekar, netpehchaan.in, January 2015

Box 8.3 Digital natives of Satara Road

When Parth Kakade, a Standard 5 student of Rajiv Gandhi Academy of E-Learning at Sahakarnagar, Pune, begged his parents to buy him a computer, his father Prakash bought a secondhand machine worth Rs 5,000 and attached it to the LCD TV they already had.

‘We couldn’t afford a laptop or a brand new desktop.

But Parth has become obsessed with computers at school, so finally we decided to buy this. We cannot afford an internet connection now, but maybe in future we will,’ says his mother Rohini. The Kakade family lives in a tiny, pucca house in Laxminagar, a slum pocket near Pune’s Parvati Hill.

The Rajiv Gandhi E-Learning Academy is a showpiece for the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), which claims the school was the first e-learning academy to be run by a city administration, and catering largely to children from informal settlements, with little or no access to computers or modern teaching methods. The school is much sought after by parents in different slum pockets along Satara Road; children from Janata Vasahat, Dandekar Bridge, Shiv Darshan, Upper and Lower Indiranagar study here.

‘Only three houses in our locality have desktop computers,’ says Parth. ‘A majority of my friends visit two net cafés to surf the internet or play computer games.’

Parth can’t access the internet at school yet. Only students from Standards 8 to 11 are allowed to use the net at the computer lab. The school has two air-conditioned computer labs, each with 50 internet-linked desktop computers. Every student is required to use the computer once a day, for at least 35 minutes. Students from Standards 1 and 2 are taught the basics of computers, while those in Standard 3 and above are allowed to use them.

The modern, four-storey school building houses around 1,300 students, studying from pre-primary to junior college (till Standard 11). Only children of poor parents, whose annual income is less than Rs 100,000, are admitted. ‘The parents of a majority of students are not educated and do odd jobs in the city,’ says local Congress corporator Aba Bagul, who envisioned the project and persuaded the PMC authorities to set it up in his electoral ward.

Bagul says it was a conscious decision to choose the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) over the state education board syllabus, as the CBSE syllabus was available in audio-visual format. ‘Each classroom is provided with audio-visual facilities so the students can learn by seeing the diagrams, audio and visual clips,’ he explains, adding that the teachers too have a separate room where they can prepare for classes with the help of computers and the internet.

Students are familiar with Google and Wikipedia; they surf current affairs, science, history, geography and access images for their project work. They also use online dictionaries. Access to social networking sites is restricted in school. On our visit to the school’s computer lab, one student was reading the chronology of India’s independence movement online, downloading material for a PowerPoint presentation. A group of Standard 8 students were working on a project on disaster management.

Vivek Badgu from Standard 9 says, ‘We get 45-90 minutes of internet use every day’. He can do experiments online that he cannot do in his school laboratory. Huda Ansari, whose father works in a bakery at Ghorpade Peth, says she prefers doing homework in school rather than at home. ‘It’s easier. The server has all the text, diagrams and pictures loaded for your studies,’ she says.

Autorickshaw driver Anil Kamble got admission for his son Mayan in Junior KG. ‘I had been hearing about the school’s computer and English education for three years. No one speaks English at home or in the vicinity, but my son can recite English poems,’ Kamble said.

Even Standard 1 student Murtuza Shaikh, son of a cab driver, can rattle off the various parts of the computer – CPU, keyboard, mouse – and can manage basic applications on a computer.

‘At first, the children are hesitant. But they pick up very fast,’ said Rebecca Magar, who joined the school three years ago after 16 years of teaching at a convent school in the Pune cantonment area.

According to school principal Arun Kamthe, the school lays stress on the English language and all subjects are taught in English. ‘English is a world language and computers can be operated with full perfection only if one has command over the language,’ he said.

According to Kamthe, the school has 100% attendance every day, something other civic schools can only dream of, plagued as they are by the problem of dropouts. ‘This is because of the computers and the good meals provided by the school,’ Kamthe said. ‘We want to teach computers to students at an early age because we want them to face the world with confidence. We want our students to join IITs and IIMs in future, for which computers, the internet and English are a must.’

~ Gitesh Shelke, www.netpehchaan.in, December 2013

SUMMARY

Even before the Digital India policy was announced by the Centre in 2014, the state of Maharashtra had put several systems in place to take public services and entitlements to citizens’ doorsteps through e-governance. The city administrations have also made efforts to take government services to citizens through e-governance schemes.

The PCMC has won several awards for its integrated e-governance systems which have become a model for other states and municipal corporations. Both the PMC and the PCMC run a network of Common Service Centres where citizens can apply online for documents and certificates. The CSCs mainly cater to poor and marginalised communities that may not have the infrastructure or ICT skills to negotiate e-governance platforms by themselves.

But no special efforts to provide high-speed/subsidised internet access for the urban poor and marginalised have been undertaken by either the state government or the city administrations, with the exception of the ongoing public Wi-Fi project in Mahatma Phule Nagar in the PCMC. This despite the fact that Pune was the first off the mark in considering universal internet access for its citizens: as early as 2006-7 the PMC had envisaged an ambitious universal internet access system in partnership with Intel which, unfortunately, did not get off the ground.

The Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Ltd promotes digital literacy through the MS-CIT computer course using a state-wide network of franchisees. The training is made available free of cost for students from families earning less than Rs 1 lakh annually. MKCL also partners with PMC and PCMC schools for computer literacy trainings and learning material.

Government schools begin computer education from Standard 1, but there is a wide gap between intention and implementation. Children from disadvantaged families need much more exposure to ICTs at school than children from the middle class, because often the school is the only place where they are exposed to computers and the internet. A largely theoretical ICT training at the school level leaves them with a severe digital disadvantage. The difference that quality ICT infrastructure and training makes to the students’ ICT competencies is quite apparent at the city administration’s own e-learning academies which have well-equipped computer labs and incorporation of audio-visual learning methods.

ENDNOTE

1. Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, a wireless network standard