IT Rumble in the Jungle – Financial Times – the Sunday Times – October 21, 2007

OnTime BPO
OnTime BPO

Fancy having city kids go into the village to learn? Usually it’s the other way around. But the Horizon Lanka IT village at Mahawilachchiya in Anuradhapura plays host to students from the cities and towns keen on learning IT and this small hamlet has taken Sri Lankan skills to a different plane on this planet.

Sri Lanka’s first IT village, Horizon Lanka, where a group of youth processes data for a fee has given city folk and policy planners many lessons. The first and most important lesson is that English is vital in a globalised world and for those education planners who think they should disturb the current English language education stream in government schools and provide a mix of English and Sinhalese subjects, the message from this small village is don’t!

If not for English and subsequently IT (without English you cannot learn IT), Mahawilachchiya would have been a backward village, unheard and unsung where youngsters grow up joining the military, garment factories or idle as Arts graduates without jobs.

Now because of their almost-perfect English speaking and writing skills, these youngsters are writing software programmes for overseas companies and individuals earning foreign exchange and laptops as gifts.

They have a far better future – than youth from other villages — as computer programmers, software programmers and in connected jobs.

Unlike the city where people grumble about food costs, unruly politicians, politics and the peace process, Mahavilachchiya residents spend their time in more productive ways. There is no huge debate about the plight of the country despite the fact that the village lies next to the Wilpattu National Park and on the Mannar border and even though some men have been abducted apparently by the Tigers.

Here farmers read online newspapers at home after a hard day’s work with the help of donated computers and Wifi-zones; children study English and IT after school and soon become computer geeks having their own blogs and get a training at the Horizon Lanka complex to prepare themselves for city life. There is a modern gym, video and audio CD players and other modern gadgetry so that village youth know how to deal with city life.

It’s like a village in motion heading towards a dream, parts of which have been fulfilled and a few more parts to be filled. Horizon founder Wanni’s dream is to send a youngster to the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US and given the commitment of these children and support from others, that’s most likely to happen in the not-too-distant-future.

The irony is that while Mahawilachchiya youngsters have access to modern technology via the Internet and sophisticated IT equipment like Wifi zones and massive transmission towers like city youth, they are un-spoilt by these trappings.

For example the BP operations director has no complaints about his less than Rs 10,000 salary and proudly says he saved enough to buy a motor cycle.

The youngsters are also competent in making power point presentations in English while their blogs have drawn comments and input from across the world. The success of this IT village in the jungle is expected to see a similar transformation of other villages with the help of Wanni and his dedicated band of IT experts.

English and IT are the only way forward as Mahawilachchiya has proved in its newest state of progression into BPO outfits to provide jobs. Without English, no country can progress in the globalised world while without IT we would be left behind as others in the region develop at a faster pace.

These are lessons from a small village for policymakers and the business community with the most important being — we need to be more productive than spending time on politics!