Helps several students to simultaneously share one PC

At a time when experiments to democratise computing access are being tried out through programmes like the One Laptop Per Child, access to such learning tools remains a dream to most of India's 220 million children.

But by adapting technology to Indian scenarios, solution providers are developing products that try to leverage the potential of software platforms to reach the vast number of students in the 6-14 age group. One such example is the Windows MultiPoint Server (WMS), which was launched here on Friday.

The platform allows several students to simultaneously share one PC, thereby increasing access to computing in educational institutions and libraries.

“The Personal Computer penetration in the country is very low. Students in less than 8 per cent of government schools have access to computers. In the developed countries it is as high as 75 per cent,” says Rajeev Katyal, Director (Education), Microsoft India.

The WMS module has one centralised server, which is just a processing unit with good specifications, and a maximum of nine peripheral stations with a monitor, keyboard and mouse that could be connected through a USB device called ‘Linksmart.'

“By virtualising the nodes, each child can get his own customised user interface and the same user experience wherever he logs in to the network,” says Pankaj Ukey, Director (Business Development), Microsoft India. “By our estimation, hardware and power consumption costs can be slashed by 50 per cent.”

According to Mr. Katyal, affordable computing is essential in an educational environment as it opens the door to self-learning and self-discovery.

A similar device that provides individual workstations by porting peripherals from a central server has been developed by Bangalore-based Innovative Education Concepts (IEC). Their solution ‘NextPC' uses the internal LAN connection in an institution to establish the network.

Pointing out that cost plays a crucial role in rural schools, Puja Sharma, co-founder of IEC, says, “Schools invest a lot of money to maintain their computer labs and to train teachers. The computer lab environment has to be customised taking into account various existing limitations. Every child must get to use a computer. What usually happens is 10 students are assigned one computer and none of them get to use it.”