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INDIA: Most Literate State Plans IT Revolution

by R. L. BinduInter Press Service
April 23rd, 2001

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India -- Computers are no longer the ''devil's agents'' for the Communist rulers of India's Kerala state, on the country's southern coast.

Realising that the state is lagging behind other provinces in India's great information technology (IT) race, the rulers of Kerala have shed off ideological opposition to high technology.

The Communist Marxist Party, which for long fought against computerisation of the workplace, believing it would reduce jobs, is now zealously promoting IT in Kerala.

The reason is understandable. Internationally acclaimed for being India's first state to have achieved near full literacy, Kerala finds itself trailing in information technology.

Meantine, adjoining Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh states have made a name for themselves as the centres of India's emerging IT 'superpower' status.

Kerala, which got the world's first elected Communist government in 1957, ushered in a social revolution through land and educational reforms in the tiny state.

However, subsequent Communist rulers tended to see new technology as worker-unfriendly.

The present government finally appointed a high-level task force, which submitted a report that forms the basis of the IT revolution planned for the state.

''The education system at all levels requires extensive changes in content and pedagogy. This, coupled with a change in mindset, is necessary to prepare future generations to benefit from and meet the demands of the information age,'' says the report.

In the next nine years, Kerala aims to make 60 million students at least computer-literate, if not experts.

The state is being encouraged by India's famed nuclear scientist A.P. J. Kalam, who believes that Kerala, being the country's most literate state, is best-suited to produce computer manpower.

Thirteen-year-old student Kiran, who lives in a Kerala village far from here, has heard about the Internet and is thrilled at the prospect of browsing the World Wide Web in his school.

The government has promised to set up some 6,000 computers in more than 2,000 schools across the state in the first phase of the IT education programme.

The mainly rural state has an estimated 12,310 primary and secondary schools. There are another 931 higher secondary institutions.

It also has plans to train a cadre of IT teachers. State officials have approached world IT leaders like Microsoft and Intel to organise training, says Kerala Education Minister P. J. Joseph.

As many as 60,000 teachers would be trained to impart computer education to students.

Parents are pleased. Until now, only the better off could afford to send their children to the expensive, private IT training centres. ''This is going to be a major step,'' says Molly George, who teaches in a local school.

Every school, from the villages to cities, would have a computer centre that would be used by the students during school hours and the public after school hours.

By 2010, all students and teachers of high schools and higher secondary schools will have easy access to computers and the Internet, claims the government.

The state government also hopes that IT training will open new job avenues for its large unemployed workforce, estimated at about 3.8 million men and women.

''Kerala should witness, during the first decade of this century, a total transformation of the classroom at all levels,'' says the report of the government task force on IT education.

''Computers and Internet should move to the centre stage from the periphery and become an integral tool of the learning process,'' it adds.

Sunil Gupta, an IT expert who heads IVL India -- one of the major IT companies in Kerala -- says the state is well positioned to grab a major share of opportunities in the information technology field.

The state has a telephone density -- the number of connections per 1,000 people -- twice the national average.

Kochi, the state's commercial capital, is one of three landing points in India for international Internet submarine cables this year, which will make the city a major Internet hub.

Some 100 hectares of land has been earmarked for an 'IT park' in the port city. Another IT park is coming up at Kozhikode in the northern part of Kerala.

An existing technopark in the state capital offers one of India's lowest operational costs and is steadily attracting investors.

The state has also taken positive steps for 'e-governance' under the Information Kerala Mission, which has linked more than 1,200 village councils and local bodies with district and state level planning

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