eVillage – Sri Lanka – Beyond a Telecenter – The Sunday Times – April 7, 2008

Nanda Wanninayaka
Nanda Wanninayaka

There is a lot of talk of taking ICT to the village level. Luckily, there are quite a few initiatives to do this. Many try to do this through telecenter model initiatives. But in eVillage – Sri Lanka project, our approach is quite different.

First we studied the Horizon Lanka’s success model in Mahawilachchiya, our own initiative. Though Horizon Lanka had its own ups and downs, it has been able to sustain itself for the last 10 years or so. The main reason for the sustainability of the project is that its practical approach to the ICT usage in rural areas. Rather than becoming a mere telecenter where internet hours are sold and services like copying CDs, providing telephone calls are offered, Horizon Lanka Academy had long term goals of creating ICT culture in the village and gain a brand name to the whole village, not limiting to the institute itself.

From the very outset I understood that creating ICT culture in a remote village was a too big a task if the children and youth are not given a decent English education. The planning and subsequent execution of the planning paid off well. Today one can find in Mahavilachchiya that the students get A passes for their OL English whereas they get lesser distinctions for their mother tongue. What we did was to integrate technology into English teaching. Internet, email, IM chats, watching DVD movies, doing presentations in conferences, doing live commentaries while sports meets and other events were taken place etc. were warmly welcomed by the students. They found these methods more exciting than the traditional ways of learning a language in public schools. The end result was that English was no more a foreign language to them.

More or less similar strategy was used for ICT education where students could actively participate in real projects rather than learning concepts in theory alone. As a result, today one can find a pool of web designers, graphic designers, multimedia animators, etc. in Mahawilachchiya. Some students entered universities to further their education while some youth directly joined companies in Colombo after Advanced Level to do IT related jobs. Those who wish to remain in the village could join the BPO arm of Horizon Lanka. Growing ICT related infrastructure and increasing number of telephone networks working in Mahavilachchiya were only by products. We did not forget the elderly population as well. Once can find illiterate parents who start learning how to write with MS Paint to the parents who read online local language newspapers before going to ricefields. So there is nothing wrong in calling Mahawilachchiya an ‘eVillage’ now.

We could do all these because we set our goals beyond a telecenter right from the beginning. If we limit ourselves to a mere telecenter, we wouldn’t have achieved this much.

Mahawilachchiya eVillage model is very simple and easy to replicate. This is why the Ministry of Education is replicating the same model with our expertise right now. There are some other privately owned or community owned small projects in different parts of the country that take Mahawilachchiya as an example.

Through an eVillage, we expect to provide decent English language proficiency, ICT literacy, job opportunities to the community. Though difficult, we try our best to retain the accepted cultural values of the villages while introducing new technology to them.

Nanda Wanninayaka nanda@horizonlanka.org