Dr Ashok K. Chauhan is the President of Amity Institute of Telecom, Technology and Management; President of Amity Law School (ALS); the Founder President of the Ritnand Balved Education Foundation (RBEF); and the Chairman of the AKC Group of Companies. Dr Chauhan, as Chairman and CEO of the AKC Group, was considered the most successful NRI (non-resident of India) in Continental Europe. In 1992, he was named ‘Man of the Year’ in a ceremony in London. Dr Chauhan earned his MSc in Chemistry in India and proceeded to, then, West Germany to pursue higher studies. Dr Chauhan began his career as a researcher and rose to head Research and Development at Daetwyler in West Germany. Dr Chauhan has served as the NRI member of Committees for India’s Prime Minister, its Finance Minister, Commerce Minister and the UP Chief Minister. Dr Chauhan has earned honours around the World including: from the President of India for his contributions as an NRI in the field of technology; from the German Government as the biggest non-German investor in, then, East Germany; from the International Biographical Centre of Cambridge, England, and the Centenarian Award in 2004 from Centenarian Trust of Mahaswami of Kanchi. Dr Ashok K. Chauhan is the Chancellor of Gurukul Mahavidyala, Jwalapur and Amity University, Raipur. Dr Chauhan is the Founder-President of the Ritnand Balved Education Foundation and leads the 88 Amity Educational Institutions, with their 18 campuses 22,000 students and 130 programmes.
Today, ICT (Information and Communiction Technology) drives economies throughout the world. ICTs, though, both create and destroy of work opportunities, as labour intensive jobs are replaced by machines. This poses a challenge for higher education. India has some 200 million adult illiterates, but projects such as the ‘Computer Based Functional Literacy’ (CBFL), that teach adults to read 400 - 450 words in their own language through a multimedia puppet show progamme, provide a modern solution to a traditional problem.
Historical perspective ICT, Information and Communication Technology, training and the future of India needs to be looked at from a historical perspective. Worldwide, illiteracy has fallen, especially in the least developed countries.Demand for higher education has gathered pace; the growth in the number of primary and secondary students has, consequently, swelled the number of education seekers at the tertiary level However, this growth is still retarded due to the severe financial constraints facing most developing nations. The answer to this is a paradigm shift in the way education is provided. A number of countries, many in the developing countries, have adopted the ‘open university’ model. This growth, though, is to a great extent nullified by global population growth that far out-paces the growth of institutions providing education. ICT in India In the late 1970s, and much of the 1980s, India’s ICT sector prospered by satisfying international demand for ‘skillware’. Numerous well trained software engineers provided their abundant skills to firms in developed nations to develop and maintain traditional legacy systems. Subsequently, the focus shifted to software quality and project management. Investment in high quality software processes and in reliable global delivery became the byword for Indian ICT companies. Most of the software engineers delivering these projects were trained in India. Constraints To succeed in the ICT arena, telecommunications becomes the most critical factor. Government is an important stakeholder and has the deciding role in creating such infrastructure, especially in developing countries. Trade barriers and policy restraints discourage private entrepreneurship. In the last decade, by removing trade barriers and policy restraints, India has witnessed a phenomenal growth in the ICT sector, and a spurt in the availability of telephone lines, cellular phones, personal computers and internet providers and internet users. ICT training The new millennium promises exciting advances in ICT, but poses extraordinary challenges for higher education. Institutions of higher education must respond to these challenges by espousing the new technologies. Today, ICT is the driving force of economies round the world. However, ICTs are also both creators and destroyers of work opportunities. As labour intensive jobs are replaced by machines, there is apprehension that the growing over-dependence on ICT is retrogressive. On the other hand, ICT aids in expanding the reach and range of educational institutions by enabling students to access any course from anywhere in the world and at anytime. This is quite different from the traditional teacher to student method of delivering education. Education is now a lifetime need for everyone rather than a specialised activity for students. Many institutions worldwide, particularly in USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Europe have started to invest heavily in online education. Many courses, only offered online, are targeted at students who cannot access a conventional university or college campus. Compared to these countries, India is just building up. Although Indians have been building world class software technologies around the world, we have not emphasised creating such opportunities in India. India’s Internet infrastructure is still not well developed, although there are now many foreign universities offering online courses through the Internet. Our institutions do not yet fully employ the newer technologies nor take full advantage of the resources available. Deficiencies in the infrastructure, coupled with the high cost of Internet access, also act as a barrier. To overcome this, India needs to provide more education to larger number of students, across all borders, and at an affordable cost. Significant challenges for India Burgeoning population remains the bane of our nation and creates numerous impediments to progress. Because of its massive populace, India still has approximately 200 million adult illiterates, five decades after getting independence. Though the National Literacy Mission (NLM) and State Literacy Mission (SLM) have done a commendable job, this has been nullified by the rapidly increasing population. At this pace, it will take another 30 years to achieve 90-95 per cent literacy level. According to NLM, literacy means ability to read, write and do basic arithmetic. A remarkable initiative by Tata Group, India, aimed at fostering reading ability has changed the lives of thousands of adults. The ‘Computer Based Functional Literacy’ (CBFL) programme, implemented across different parts of India, utilises novel methodology to provide a modern solution to a traditional problem. This project can greatly accelerate our literacy rate. The technology based solution is innovative, simple, low-cost and effective. CBFL focuses on 18-50 year old adults who missed formal schooling. They are taught to read 400 - 450 words in their own language through a multimedia puppet show progamme. In about two to three months, say 40 - 50 hrs of learning, people start reading news papers, posters, ration cards and their children’s school reports. More then 20,000 people have benefited by learning the most basic reading skills. This exciting adventure is spread over a number of states in India and will soon travel across the seas to Lephalale municipality of Northern Province of South Africa. This model is now available to the world and can be suitably adopted across nations. Future of India More needs to be said about bringing ICT training to the grass root level as a part of basic schooling. Apprehension about the high cost of infrastructure, and doubts about the capabilities of primary school children to understand newer technologies, have caused many a setback. However, a number of pioneering projects have been undertaken in India with astonishing results. A proponent of ‘minimally invasive education’, Sugata Mitra, scientist at a renowned Indian ICT corporation, successfully replicated his ‘hole-in-the-wall’ experiment at locations across India, Egypt and Cambodia. With his experiment spread over the last five years, 40,000 Indian village children are now computer literate. The experiment revealed that children 6 to 13 years old, do not need to be taught how to use computers, they can learn on their own by watching and copying others in their group. The experiment succeeded–irrespective of the social, ethnic, cultural or economic differences of the children. India has a vast educationally backward rural population. Huge areas have almost no PCs, Internet or telecommunications. Despite that, the ‘Gyandoot’ project installed information kiosks in a poor, tribal, rural area in Madhya Pradesh. The kiosks are owned by the community whose main concern was the non-availability of the current agriculture produce auction rates. With this information, they can get the best bargains in trade. Obtaining copies of land records and filing of complaints etc., was extremely difficult and time-consuming. The Gyandoot project built a low cost rural Intranet that gave villagers access to the information they required. In yet another initiative, over 450 Internet kiosks now link animal owners in remote areas to veterinarians who provide online medical advice. Each kiosk has a PC with local language software, videoconferencing and a camera to allow veterinarians view the animals–cats, dogs and chickens–in realtime. The kiosks eliminate many costly trips to the vet. The revolutionary effect of ICT and the Internet is spreading across India. Over 700 million people living in rural areas will benefit. Videoconference facilities give people access to doctors hundreds of miles away, and Internet kiosks set up in different states allow people little acquainted with ICT to get a view of the ‘outside’ world. Conclusion The heart of the Indian ICT revolution is our quality software at sustainable costs. However, much still needs to be done to create a countrywide infrastructure. Success stories like the ‘hole in the wall’ experiment, the Gyandoot e-governance project, online veterinary and medical clinic ventures and the CBFL programme are increasingly evident, and have far reaching social impact. Their success results from a combination of foresight, ambition, leadership, talent and luck. Original ideas and creativity abound, but they need to be focused for the benefit of our masses.