Indian state gives all schools IT access

Most populous Southern Indian state, Andhra Pradesh, is the country's first to provide ICT education to all its 1.8 million school-going children.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

INDIA--Andhra Pradesh has become the first state to offer ICT (infocomm technology) education to all its 1.8 million school-going children, starting Monday.

In December 2004, the Indian government launched its ICT in Schools Scheme to provide access to computer education to secondary school students across the country. The initiative was established in partnership with the Indian states and Union Territories.

According to the Planning Commission, the Indian government is committed to provide computers in all government schools by the end of the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-2012).

Andhra Pradesh, the largest and most populous state in South India, is the first state to provide computing access to 5,000 government schools, covering 1.8 million school children. The state is installing a total of 50,000 computing seats in these schools, deploying low-cost and eco-friendly virtualization tool provided by U.S.-based NComputing.

The NComputing technology creates multiple virtual desktops on a single PC, enabling several users to tap unused capacity and share the system simultaneously. Andhra Pradesh deployed the NComputing X300, which supports up to seven users simultaneously on a single PC. Each seat costs US$70.

According to Dukker, the X300 solution will help the Andhra Pradesh government reduce electricity consumption in school computer labs by over 90 percent, compared to a traditional all-PC solution.

"This is one of the largest deployments of NComputing solution and an important project for us," Stephen Dukker, chairman and CEO of NComputing, told ZDNetAsia in a phone interview. "NComputing is proud to have been chosen by Andhra Pradesh to fulfill its vision to improve learning and literacy rates throughout the state."

The computing labs in these schools will be used for training in computer skills and office productivity software suite. The systems run on Microsoft Windows Server and are installed with Microsoft Office.

The Andhra Pradesh government has outsourced the project for five years to leading educational IT companies, such as NIIT, Educomp, Everonn, Social Computers and Terasoft, based on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model. This model requires the outsourcers to install, staff and manage the labs, and helps ensure the labs are installed quickly and performance benchmarks are met.

The five-year period also enables school staff to develop their own competencies in managing the labs and computer-aided teaching.

In November 2007, NIIT and NComputing formed an alliance to offer affordable computer education to Indian schools. As part of this partnership, NIIT will provide its expertise and provide computer and computer-aided education across schools in the country, while NComputing will offer its technology.

NIIT is currently present in 663 schools in Andhra Pradesh, and with Monday's announcement, will add another 2,000 schools. NIIT's school-learning tools will now be available in eight districts across Andhra Pradesh.

In all, NIIT provides computer education to 9,626 schools across India.

"If India is to excel as a knowledge economy and cash in on the global opportunities, then it's important that the country's school-going children are conversant with IT and the Internet," said L. Balasubramanian, president of school learning solutions at NIIT, in a phone interview. "With computer education, they are able to make an informed decision about their career."

NComputing and NIIT have been visiting various states to market the virtual PC offering, and expect more states to adopt the tool. "Kerala, [for example], is closely monitoring this solution," Balasubramanium said.

In fact, Dukker expects India to be the largest market for NComputing, beating the United States by 2010. He added that the virtual PC tool has helped the Andhra Pradesh government save US$20 million in upfront and ongoing support costs.

There are approximately 80,000 government schools spread across India. Some 20,000 schools have already set up computer laboratories, while the remaining are targeting to provide computing access to middle and higher secondary students by 2012.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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