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India Report #1

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New Delhi is a lush vibrant city, with a chaos of bicycles, "two-wheelers" (mopeds and motorcycles), cars, trucks, and various kinds of pedaled and motorized three-wheelers. It's poor -- much poorer than Beijing -- but you don't see the kind of starvation that one would have expected 1-2 decades ago in Egypt.

Internet access here is 60 cents US ($0.60) an hour at an Internet cafe for a VERY SLOW dial-up connection, and about twice that for an almost equally slow ISDN connection. I'm now paying about $4 per hour at my hotel. A reminder once again that the digital divide is not bipolar but a continuum of various types of access. There's a huge difference between my cable modem access at home and a frustrating attempt to get connected to an international site from an Internet cafe here!

Long-time papyrus news subscribers will remember my report on the "Hole in the Wall" computer kiosks for slum kids in New Delhi. A few computers are in a room with their monitors sticking through a wall. No keyboards, but a joystick with two buttons has been attached for kids to operate the mouse. It has been heralded as a revolutionary experiment showing how kids can teach themselves computing. The slum kids started swarming to the site and using various programs without instruction.

As usual, a visit to the site reveals a somewhat more complex situation. Yes, the slum kids are getting access to computers but, from what I saw and heard, they are spending most of their time on action computer games and some time with paint programs. A number of the parents have complained that there is no instructor, and one parent told me that her son's school work has dropped off considerably since he plays computer games all day instead of doing his homework. To me, this is an excellent example of how the social context of computing is really what it's about--not just providing the computers. (In all fairness, this is a pilot program, and the Delhi administrators are strongly committed to improving it, so no criticism is intended, just a reminder that technology is all about individual and social development, ideally, not about pure access to the machine itself.

A more worthwhile example, in my eyes, is provided by the Prayas Foundation--(, an absolutely heroic group that has dozens of programs for India's street kids, including homeless shelters, schools, AIDS prevention programs, hot lines, advocacy, and vocational ed programs. Among the vocational ed programs is a computer training program. Straight by the book--no fancy project based learning or innovation--just getting street kids to learn Windows, computer basics, Microsoft Office, and in some cases more advanced applications. But doing it in a context that makes a difference in kids lives, by reaching out to the most desparate children, providing a safe environment, and wrapping vocational training in all the other social services that kids need. (If any of you have a few spare dollars, please direct them to Prayas -- those people are really saints).

I saw a very similar program that is working to defend and assist women, working against domestic violence, providing women's health care, etc., plus vocational training including computers. Don't have the name right now but will try to provide soon.

On to Dhar tonight to visit the Gyandoot project -- a rural development project extending telecentres in rural areas of one of the poorer states of India. More on that later!

By the way, the food here is fabulous!!! I can see why so many Indians are vegetarians. Yummy vegetarian food here. Much spicier than Indian food in America which has obviously been Americanized.

I almost got lost last night. Wondered out by a three-wheeler from the hotel to a cyber-cafe, and couldn't find my way back and didn't know the name of the hotel! A disaster was avoided when I found the name of the hotel on my room key :-). Glad I hadn't checked that in!

More later....

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Last updated: July 12, 2001 in Hot Metal Pro 6.0