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

Nanda Wanninayaka
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

Computer Literacy and English Education – Overcoming the Challenges – Sunday Times – June 10, 2007

Horizon Lanka Girls

Horizon Lanka GirlsNishantha Kamaladasa CEO, Distance Learning Centre Ltd

 Computer literacy and the English language skills are necessary to build a competent employee required by the corporate sector. However this competency is absent in many educated youth. This is in spite of increased government and parental spending.

These two important subject areas have not reached the expected level of achievement because they also have been taught by teachers at classes but not been learnt by the students. They did not learn English or ICT because they had not used either, in the process of learning.

This dilemma reminds us about the famous Chinese proverb which says “You forget what you hear and see, but remember what you do”.

We have been teaching computer skills and English but it had no immediate use to the learner, especially to those who live in rural environments. In such an environment it is difficult to motivate them to learn and especially motivate them to consolidate what they have learnt.

Possibilities

Hence if we are to promote the two subjects, within the rural community, we should find out an immediate application for those, within such communities.

If ICT and English can be used to develop the village, then there is a need for the lads to learn. If there are tourists with whom they have to transact in English they would learn English. If there are enquiries for their products from foreign countries they would learn English and ICT to communicate. If the village is benefited by information provided by the web they will look in to the web. If the web allows them to get an application form (down load) that they have to go miles to collect they will search the web. If that can be filled up and sent electronically they would gladly look for the web.

Mahawilachchiya Initiative

There is one particular experiment that stands out with regards to English and ICT education. This was referred recently even by His Excellency the President as well, on the topic of education. He talked of the necessity of having similar initiatives in the other villages of Sri Lanka.

The interest expressed by the head of the state on the subject has brought many to think about getting similar results. However, any replication has to be tried out after careful study about the success factors. If one is careful enough to study what had happened in Mahawilachchiya he/she will find that there was more to it than teaching ICT and English. Both those essential elements were used to transact with the rest of the world to get assistance to their village. Hence both ICT and English were used. Hence those were learnt.

What the pioneers at Mahawilachchiya did was to create the necessary environment for the children to learn English and ICT. The children had something more to achieve by learning both those; other than learning for the sake of learning. They had to use those to realize the expectations of the village and the education system that was set before them. They had aspirations to meet, which they could not without English and ICT.

More than Technology and Knowledge

To take this kind of initiative you also need a person more than an English teacher with ICT literacy. It requires a person who is environment sensitive and also with a knack for self learning.

Contents are taught at School. But you need to understand the context in which you are supposed to apply those contents. Contexts have to be self-learnt by being sensitive to the environment and by engaging with it. It is learnt in the process of dealing with it. Most of our school products fail in this experiment. They are scared to interact and learn; they expect somebody to spoon feed them as what was done in the school. But contexts cannot be taught; they are different; they are time and space bound.

Only entrepreneurship will provide this initiative of interacting with the context with view of learning it.

It is difficult to teach entrepreneurship but you can identify the potential entrepreneurs and empower them.

Entrepreneur at Mahawilachchiya

Mahawilachchiya had such an entrepreneur in the name of Nanda Wanninayaka. We need to have similar entrepreneurs in the villages that we are going to replicate the same (e-village program). Once selected, they have to be empowered. They will then join with English teachers and ICT literates to create the e-village.

Identifying and Empowering Entrepreneurs

Hence it is suggested that we put some effort in identifying these entrepreneurs in the selected villages and empower them through a facilitation program, where brain storming sessions would be the basic methodology in getting them oriented towards the initiative.

Distance Learning Centre Ltd, where I work, had undertaken two successful programs in empowering such entrepreneurs. Our experience had been that empowering entrepreneurs is not hard but identifying and selecting them is. The reason is that they are not available in large numbers given the education and training environment that exist in the country.

Conclusion

E-village program can meet the expectations of the educationists with this kind of intervention (identifying and empowering entrepreneurs who will use the two tools- English and ICT- in bringing a change in the village).  Secondary Education Modernization Project has understood this position very much and is in the process of facilitating this process.

The same model could be applied to other subjects as well. The motto should be that one should use something if he wants to learn it.

COMPUTER LITERACY AND ENGLISH EDUCATION - Overcoming the Challenges
COMPUTER LITERACY AND ENGLISH EDUCATION – Overcoming the Challenges

The Future of the Meshed Up e-Village – Sunday Observer – December 24, 2006

Mahawilachchiya
Mahawilachchiya
Mahawilachchiya

One of the most talked about topics in ICT4D today is the Mahawilachchiya project. A joint venture by Horizon Lanka and ICTA, it is slated to be the first model e-village in Sri Lanka. The village which doesn’t even have fixed telephone coverage, is connected to the Internet, 24/7, by a wireless mesh technology. The decentralized and relatively inexpensive mesh happens to be the first wireless outdoor network to be implemented in Sri Lanka.

So far Horizon Lanka has helped to furnish over 30 homes with used desktop computers which the villages help themselves to access the Internet. One of the immediate outcomes is that the children have started browsing for information to help them with their studies and have started using VoIP.

The older generation has started reading Sinhala and Tamil newspapers. (There are some interesting videos on you tube composed by the children – visit youtube.com and search for Mahavilachchiya)

When the project was first proposed in December 2004, the project objectives included an E-channelling and hospital connection, facilitating the search of employment opportunities, community chat, connectivity between institutions and people, and even an online market for whole sale buyers.

Therefore, in spite the great leap taken forward in implementing this rural e-village (and acknowledging it all the way), Mahawilachchiya still has a long way to go. And if it’s going to sustain after consuming the given grants, then villages need to be given a better reason to access the internet than just browsing information and reading the news.

The most important facet to realize is that Mahawilachchiya cannot hold by itself. The Internet has an impact of the quality of life only when it’s backed up by services directly related to the villagers well being. Government services have to be accessible via the Internet, people related to the village have to be connected and contactable via the Internet and similar peer communities should be brought up simultaneously so that the villages don’t feel alienated inside the web.

From language issues to IT awareness, it’s not an easy task to initiate an e-village from scratch. Good will and infra-structure is an excellent starting point for now, and Horizon Lanka’s past efforts in providing education for the children in Mahawilachchiya in an unconventional way must have been an inspirational factor in convincing the villages to embrace the new change as well.

But in terms of e-governance, e-services and e-community the rest of the country is far behind and desperately needs to keep up, otherwise the efforts in Mahawilachchiya would be in vain.

“e-Villages”: The future of development – Financial Times – Daily Mirror – November 09, 2006

daily-mirror-logoThe Mesh Network Project in Mahawilachchiya, Anuradhapura was launched recently at the Horizon Lanka Foundation.

In January 2005, Horizon Lanka Foundation and Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) received a grant from the Pan Asia R&D Grants Program for the deployment of a community mesh network for 30 homes in the village of Mahavilachchiya. Enterprise Technology (Pvt) Ltd (ETPL) was responsible for the implementation of the project.

Mesh networking consists of a series of smart digital devices called routers or ‘Meshboxes’, which use infrared or radio waves, to carry high speed wireless connection over a wide area. This type of networking is unique, and is currently used by local financial institutions such as banks to transfer data between their branches.

The Mahawilachchiya project signified the pilot project for ICTA’s e-Village concept. A small village in the North Central Province, with limited access to resources and few opportunities for its youth, benefited greatly through the introduction of ICT facilities. Through dedicated teachers, individuals and organizations working in partnership, the village youth were empowered with the knowledge and skills needed to access means for a better quality of life. As a result of these efforts the village secondary level students of the village are now being commissioned to design websites and currently earn more than their parents who are mostly farmers.

Establishing the Mahawilachchiya e-Village with its high density of computers marks a significant chapter in the ICT for development (ICT4D) field in the country. Over 400 rural students receive ICT education and it is the only rural Sri Lankan village with ICT connectivity 24 hours a day. This unique environment thus resounds an important message to marginal level communities all over the world. ICTA’s Programme Manager “eSociety Development Initiative, Chitranganie Mubarak commented, “Mahawilachchiya is an outstanding example of promoting inclusion through the use of ICTs. This latest project, which has given Internet access to poor rural families through a mesh network, will certainly be an impetus to other villages.”

Internet access is largely perceived as a way to reduce isolation, provide educational and economic opportunities, and ultimately improve the quality of life. Common challenges such as high capital and operating costs have limited rural access to ICTs to a handful of heavily subsidized and supported projects in Sri Lanka. This innovative integrated strategy, based on existing technology and rural social structures, addresses a variety of challenges and could ultimately aid large numbers of villagers to gain this vital access to information and knowledge.

Prof. V. K. Samaranayake, Chairman, ICTA said, “In keeping with His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s efforts to utilise technology to rapidly develop and empower rural communities, ICTA is keen on replicating this successful model in other villages across the country. Villages with limited resources and opportunities for their youth will be identified, and provided with ICT facilities for e-learning, e-commerce, and other services. ICTA will work in collaboration with partners to bring in a greater resource pool of expertise and services, to develop the village and allow for innovative social mobility amongst the members of the community. ICTA congratulates Horizon Lanka Foundation and its founder Mr. Nanda Wanninayaka for their continuous efforts in realizing the e-Sri Lanka vision.”