India may lose its technological capability if English is widely promoted as the medium for elementary education, Dorothy Gordon, director of the Advanced Information Technology Institute of the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in Information Communication Technology, said here on Wednesday.

Addressing the first technical session of the fourth international conference on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), Ms. Gordon, a specialist in international development, expressed concern over the tendency in India to use English as the medium from the kindergarten level. “I am not sure you will have the same level of technological capability if you start doing that. Research shows that people's ability to think conceptually is facilitated by having their first years of education in their mother tongue. It is very important to stay with the language at least for the first few years.”

Ms. Gordon who has worked for over 20 years with the U.N. and civil society organisations in Africa, Asia, and Europe said, “The challenge for us in Africa is that all our education is in foreign languages such as Portuguese, French, and English. We now have to start figuring out how we are going to start teaching things like coding in our own language. It is a very important area for innovation and sharing.”

She said fixing the university curriculum was important for India so that it emphasised knowledge of open technologies. Students, she noted, were still trained exclusively in proprietary platforms. “Western universities, however, put a lot of emphasis on open technologies. It is an indication of the developmental level. If your technology is only teaching proprietary solutions, then you are not technologically advanced. Advanced technology today means you have to explore open technology.”

Ms. Gordon said India's refusal to accept technology dependence and its experience in using open source to overcome technology sanctions imposed by the U.S. had provided the inspiration for Ghana. “This idea of techno colonialism, techno imperialism, and technological dependency is very important for developing countries. It is not simply buying from a neutral vendor; at any point of time, geopolitical considerations can cut off technology access. It is an important national security concern,” she said.

Over the last 10 years, she said, Kerala had shown that if a government had enough understanding of technology and was intent on creating an IT innovation through policy and strategy and taking it from paper to implementation, it could really make a difference in the lives of citizens. Not every country had the courage to do that. Kerala took the bold step; it proved it had the energy and commitment to do it, she said.

Ms. Gordon said India was riding a wave of innovation in the ICT sector. She highlighted the need to use FOSS to build business for IT entrepreneurs.

One of the challenges for the open source movement, she observed, was to catch them young, not just in terms of computer literacy but in their ability to create and think like technology leaders. “Open source systems are not just replacement for legacy systems. People now realise that the new tech needs that are developing can be met with open source,” she said.

Keywords: FOSS conference