Friday, February 06, 2009

Google India takes the internet to the masses

On Feb 3rd, Google launched the "Internet Bus Project". Simply put, this is a campaign to take the internet - quite literally on wheels - right to people in the smaller cities in India who are still not participating in what is now part and parcel of our lives in urban centers. The campaign has been launched in Tamil Nadu where the Bus will visit 15 towns in the next 45 days.

An interesting, and noble, aspect about this initiative is that the focus is the Internet and not Google, per se, as is evidenced by the videos that have been uploaded to the Internet Bus Google page as well as the internetbus channel on youtube (and are shown to visitors on the Bus as well). The video on "Internet for Communication" for example, shows facebook and Yahoo IM as means of social networking and communicating in the same breath as Orkut and Google Talk. Similarly, several sites and online services that work well to make day-to-day life easier for Indians - from online news (in Indian languages in addition to English) to cricket to matrimony to jobs to railways to e-gov - and are showcased in the videos, have nothing to do with Google.

Another worthwhile aspect being highlighted by the Internet Bus is the Indian-language Internet. Communication via the internet, as well as creation and consumption of content in Indian languages, such as Tamil, Hindi, and several others, is possible, but not a well-known feature among certain demographics in India, who perhaps view the internet as a service and convenience that can be enjoyed only in the English language. How many of us have visited the Hindi or Tamil wikipedia (which now has thousands of pages in at least 10 Indian languages, the highest number being in Telugu!)? [On a side note, this 'list of wikipedias' is an interesting page to study.]

The internet is being presented to the Bus visitors in 4 themes - Internet for --
  • Information
  • Communication
  • Education
  • Entertainment
Also showcased are the tools and services for accessing the Internet for information via mobile devices, for example maps, sms, and local services.

With access (computer hardware as well as connectivity) becoming cheaper by the day, and more and more Indic content as well as Indic language tools being made available to Indians (by Google and others), it just does not make sense for the large percentage of Indians in smaller towns to not avail themselves of the affordances of the internet, and to remain marginalized from the global revolution that is the internet.

Go Google! Go Internet Bus! Go India!
Here's some press from the launch event in Chennai on Feb 3rd -


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Vision of K-12 Students Today

(Cross-posted on

Kids today are often referred to as “digital natives” (an idea that has been described here and here on this blog). They enjoy being able to express themselves through the many digital technologies that they are so facile with; technologies that they would enjoy putting to use for the purposes of learning (and school work) as well.

This video was created to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills and be better prepared to succeed in the century. It is just as important for parents to understand, and sync up, with their digital kids.

‘A Vision of K-12 Students Today’ was probably inspired by an earlier video ‘A Vision of Students Today‘ made by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University in which they share similar views (in similar fashion too) about their affinity for, and desire to use, digital media in higher education. This earlier post discusses Michael Wesch, his work on studying mediated cultures, and his popular channel on youtube.

Can India seriously pull off a $7 (or Rs. 500) laptop?

[Cross-posted on]

In case you have not caught this on the news wire, India is all set to launch a $7 or Rs. 500 laptop. If India does manage to pull it off, it'll be quite a response to the OLPC $200 (originally the $100 laptop)!

"It forms part of the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology, India’s new scheme to boost learning in rural areas through the internet." I do wonder about the fate of a project that has the Indian government behind it - I'd have bet on a private sector initiative to meet with better success, but there are some elite partnerships that are making this possible -

"The laptop is the result of cooperation between several of India’s elite technology institutions, including the Vellore Institute of Technology, the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and the Semi-conductor Laboratory that forms part of India’s Space Department. Private companies are also taking part."

Clearly, introducing a machine such as this and even flooding rural schools with it is not the answer to providing better education. The key is in training teachers and developing appropriate applications and curricula that will leverage this tool for better teaching and learning in the millions of classrooms that form part of the abysmal public school education system in India.

That said, I do hope that this machine makes it out the door - as a testimony to Indian engineering, if nothing else. Perhaps other details like the "how" of putting it to good use in classrooms will follow in due course. (I'm feeling strangely optimistic today :))

[Update: The spate of negative press that followed this news piece is disheartening, to say the least. It seems like the $7 or $10 was just a figure thrown up out of nowhere with no concrete details. See the links below. Even if it turns out that the government is hugely subsidizing this, I suppose it is alright, as long as in the end it is truly affordable for rural schools to use this....India could've done without egg on her face, though.]