A cyber black hole of projects

The Eduserve and the Kerala Education Grid projects are yet to make much headyway in the State, writes G. Mahadevan.

At a time when the government has been asserting that multi-pronged efforts are on to bring about qualitative changes in the State’s education system, two projects that were initiated by the Department of Education during the tenure of the United Democratic Front government – the Eduserve project and the Kerala Education Grid project – designed to e-enable general and higher education have been relegated to the limbo-land of officialdom.

The proposal for setting up an Education Server in the State was initiated by the IT@School as a one-stop-shop for all e-enabled learning requirements of the State’s schools. The ‘Concept Paper on Education Server’ submitted to the Government three years ago proposed hosting of multimedia educational content, links to subject-specific websites, interface space for exchange of school projects, study material, chat forms, career counselling corners and the websites of various schools on an ‘Eduserve.’

The Kerala Education Grid (KEG) was to have been the Eduserver’s counterpart for the higher education sector in the State. It aimed at linking all institutions of higher learning through broadband Internet lines and by satellites to create a knowledge network. In the first phase, professional colleges were to be linked and in the second phase arts and science colleges were to have joined this knowledge network.

A ‘virtual’ grid

Based on a proposal submitted by the Indian Institute of Information Technology Management-Kerala (IIITMK), the State government, four years ago, sanctioned Rs.7.81 crores for setting up a Kerala Education Grid. Between 2003 and 2005 Rs.4.5 crores were released by the government for this programme. After 2005, the government stopped funding the KEG which is being run today as a programme of the IIITMK. Further details on this scheme can be had from the web site >

The KEG as it exists today is totally divorced from the education system of the State. Neither is it linked to any institution of higher learning nor has the government any scheme for linking any institution to the grid. In other words, the KEG has nothing ‘Kerala’ about it save for the fact that its operational headquarters is located in the capital city of Kerala.

In August 2004, the IIITM-K submitted a proposal to the government to elevate the KEG into a Kerala Virtual University. A file was opened preparatory to framing legislation to set up a Virtual Institute of Science Technology and Arts (VISTA). Nothing has been heard of the ‘VISTA’ ever since, neither from the IIITM-K or from the State government.

According to sources in the IIITM-K, the institute has been developing systems and processes – since 2005 – under the KEG for engineering education and for selected areas in post graduate education. “An important development is our Computational Chemistry portal and our MoU with IGNOU to offer advanced courses in Computational Chemistry at Postgraduate level for scholars and teachers in Chemistry,” an Institute official told The Hindu-EducationPlus. “We are also getting ready to offer Proficiency Certificate Courses for teachers in engineering colleges in NPTEL Courses.” The IIITM-K is also preparing to approach private and self-financing engineering colleges in the state to see whether they are interested in being part of the KEG’s “systems and processes.” The concepts and various schemes originating from KEG can be found in various documents authored by the IIITM-K director K.R. Srivathsan and posted on the ‘Publications’ link in the KEG’s website.

Efforts are now on at the IIITM-K to establish an education grid for 43 engineering colleges under the Biju Patnaik University of Technology of Orissa. On December 19, 2007 the Institute will host an academia-industry-government meeting to consider setting up a ‘Education Grid Global Alliance.’

The KEG was to have been executed through four Education Grid Resource Centres in the State. One each at the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, the Cochin University of Science and Technology, the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode and at the IIITM-K.

These resource centres would have been responsible, along with IIITM-K, for developing adequate material in different areas of technical education. In 2004 itself the Resource Centres were to have commenced work on developing courseware in many areas of engineering education, including superconductivity,

Total Quality management, Object-oriented Analysis and Design and Control Systems Engineering. However, the IIITM-K official said that the three resource centres do not appear to be part of the KEG anymore. “CET has done nothing with what we gave. CUSAT and NIT-C are using e-learning in a small way using the systems we installed. Our attempts and proposals to GoK in deploying Education Grid have largely gone down the drain of Higher Education Department as we have not received even an acknowledgment of our proposals,” the official said. KEG was also to have drawn heavily from the study material generated for the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning for over 100 engineering-related courses and used the Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching pedagogy for its operations.

The Eduserve

Even after the establishment of an Edusat network in the State – complete with ROTs and SITs and multimedia rooms – and though schools in the State have between then hundreds of free standing and locally networked computers the Eduserve project that could have helped students and teachers make practical use of such infrastructure remains firmly on government files. With such a system in place, teachers and students need not have spent time on the Net hunting for information; it would already have been posted on the Eduserve by a team of teachers and teacher-trainers. The server would also provide students with ‘clean Internet’ by allowing them to browse, offline, pre-approved web sites that have been downloaded to the server. The Eduserve was also to have been a repository of project reports submitted by students from various schools in the state thus creating a big pool of data on school projects.

This was to have been the beginning of a culture of collaboration between schools in the state; a culture wherein teachers exchange online notes on developments in their subjects, new teaching / learning techniques. The server was also supposed to have its ‘lighter’ side in the form of quizzes, crossword puzzles and games that stimulate both sides of the brain.

The IT@School also reportedly commenced the preparation of courseware to be used in the Eduserve project.

The State Institute of Educational Technology had also promised to provide its e-learning material to the server. Interestingly, officials at the department of Education seem to have little awareness about the existence of these two ‘projects’ or about how the infrastructure already in place can be used to enhance teaching / learning experiences in the State’s colleges and schools.

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