Telecentre Initiative of IGNOU Empowering Regional Youth through ICT : Prof V N Rajasekharan Pillai, Vice Chancellor,Indira Gandhi National Open University, India

Prof V N Rajasekharan Pillai, Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), in conversation with Dr Rajeshree Dutta Kumar and Ankita Verma, speaks about the Telecentre initiative at IGNOU and its potential impact.

What was the idea behind the decision of bringing in the entire telecentre initiative to IGNOU?

For the grassroot development, Information Communication Technology is going to make a great impact. The National e-Governance Plan is strengthening the grassroot level organisations and technology is the major thrust for it. Department of IT (GoI) is also planning IT Literacy Mission. A committee has been constituted to define what IT literacy is and how ordinary people can become IT literate so that they can avail primarily government to citizen services, and also, how these rural centres can be equipped with broadband connectivity and radio services in the future. Government to citizen services is happening to some extent in a fractured way. Once IT kiosk centres come into place in each and every village of the country, there can also be units for promoting education, knowledge and skills. That led us to the collaboration with the International Telecentre Academy and develop programme for Telecentre Management. For this we had meetings with various telecentre movements which were supported by IDRC.

So with the help of international expert committee we have developed a curriculum for training the telecentre managers who are grassroot level workers and who may not have formal qualification. They may be school dropouts, social activists, representatives of certain civil society organizations or NGOs. Looking at the diversity of such people who could be the potential managers of these telecentres, they would work with the agricultural workers, local traders, and different grassroot level professions in the villages.

We have developed content based on 4 modules with the help of expert committee. We have developed this into our curriculum. These 4 modules look at various issues related to education, healthcare, traditional knowledge system and awareness about the use of technology. Anybody can avail it. For those who do not have formal education of 10th or 12th level we are also providing a bridge course for them.

How do you ensure a concrete shift from informal to formal education through this initiatives?

After receiving a certificate one can get a diploma and then university degree depending upon their capability/worth. This also depends on the mandate of university as we are providing opportunities for large number of school dropouts, college dropouts and people without a formal qualification. Then may be 10% of them can obtain higher qualifications. Thus, we will give opportunities to the people at the base of the pyramid to come up to the top.

What is your opinion about telecentres and how do you see India’s position in the entire telecentre movement in South Asia?

In the name of telecentre movement, there are several organisations like Village Knowledge Centres supported by ISRO, Gyan Abhiyan of M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF). The purpose is of every movement is the same. There are few organisations providing such capabilities in the different regions. But IGNOU’s telecentres initiative is first of its kind in the country. Under our telecentre management, Common Service Centres and Village Knowledge Centres are there.  Community colleges also provide these telecentre management courses. We are expecting that in all 230,000 blocks in the country at least one telecentre manager can be formally hired. These are all village level knowledge workers.

Prof M S Swaminathan’s Rural Virtual Academy is also trying to identify rural academy students. They are making the knowledge workers and ultimately they can also get formal qualifications through this route.

Can you elaborate little more on the global focus of this initiatives?

This is for providing coordination for all activities. This telecentre programme that we are offering is not only invented for our country but it is meant

for other countries as well. We have signed MoUs with several universities and telecentre academies. Therefore, the content which we have developed is generic in nature. It is 80% common for all developing countries and rest 20% other countries can contextualize and develop according to their requirements.

Will you use the same model as you have for community colleges?

We will not use the same model. Telecentre management is more focused. We can take the example of broadband connectivity and IT kiosks. The government to citizen services is already there like Panchayati Raj functionary’s capacity building, information about Right to Education Act, National Skills Mission. Another area which we have focused on under telecentre management is how this particular activity of capacity building at block/grassroot level can contribute to the skill development. So the types of skill that is required for the youth in the next 10 years and how these skills are to be transferred, needs to be globally competent and acceptable. National Skills Mission objectives are also being propagated through these tele-knowledge centres. According to National Skills Mission initiative, around 500 million youths are to be provided with the necessary skills by 2022.

We are expecting that in all 230,000 blocks in the country, at least one telecentre manager can be formally hired

What is the role that is playing here?

Telecentre have given some logistic support for preparing the contents. So the content development as well as the preparation of modules has been supported by IDRC. Rest of the activities of IGNOU is just like any other grassroot level programme.

11th FYP is coming to an end and 12th plan is getting rolled out. So what are the plans as far as telecentres are concerned and have you set any goals/targets for next few years?

Telecentres are definitely complementary or augmenting to the 12th plan objectives. The major objective of 12th plan will be to connect education with employable skills. Through telecentres we will be providing modular skills to the people. We are also trying to provide, even those who are in the conventional system of education, some sort of specific skill into them. So there will be some sort of merger of fundamental knowledge and the ability to enhance the skills. Then there will be technology integration into all these activities. We are expecting to train around 5000 people as telecentre managers this year.

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