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E-Learning Technologies for Rural India


									                           E-Learning Technologies for Rural India

                                            Nilay M.Yajnik
                    Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies,Vile Parle (W),Mumbai


E-learning technologies have great potential to           2. The Next Generation Internet:
spread learning however, the benefits of these
technologies have to reach the Rural masses of            The Internet has grown so fast and wide that there
India, otherwise they will be one of the causes of        is tremendous clogging happening on the Net.
the Digital Divide. This paper presents two               This choking has actually restricted the usage of
emerging technologies - The Next Generation               the Internet and has not permitted applications
Internet and Natural Language Interfaces      and         such as Virtual Reality to be made available for
discusses their potential for E-Learning in Rural         Distance Learning purposes. The Next Generation
India.                                                    Internet hopes to rectify that by providing higher
                                                          bandwidth and better quality audio and video to
1. Introduction                                           enable Multimedia as well as a high amount of
                                                          interactivity which is so essential in learning.
Computer based training and video based training
have been very common for several decades in              The main projects currently leading the initiatives
India in the Software Industry. Specific software         are the University Corporation for Advanced
applications have been built and Computer based           Internet Development which is monitoring two
training has been developed for them using easy           projects - the INTERNET 2 and the Abilene
to use Authoring tools.                                   Project; the United States Government led Next
                                                          Generation Internet Project and the National
Today the Internet has enabled such CBT's to be           Science Foundation vBNS Backbone project.
made available on-line with a high amount of              The Internet 2 project is a joint project of Industry,
interactivity and also has helped increase the            Academia and Government. The basic purpose of
reach and widened the applicability of such               the Next Generation Internet is to increase
training. Technologies to enable e-learning have          bandwidth and quality of service so that a new
tremendous potential for India. However, the              generation of applications could be possible on the
benefits of these technologies must be made               Net. Some of the major initiatives of the Internet 2
available to the Rural masses of India, otherwise,        Project include improving the Quality of Service,
they will only widen the Digital Divide. Various          Middleware Initiative, Distributed Storage Initiative
technologies have been used over the years to             and Digital Video Initiative.
propagate Distance Learning including the Radio,
TV and now the Internet. There are several                Amongst new applications which can be enabled
problems which affect Rural India but amongst             with the Internet 2 are applications in Teaching
them, a major problem is that literacy amongst            and Learning. Learning is extremely easy when it
farmers and Rural folk of India is very low.              is in the form of Virtual Reality, Multimedia and
Emerging technologies such as Natural Language            Collaborative interactivity. The Internet in its
Interfaces and the Next Generation Internet will          current form is unable to handle such heavy loads
enable several innovative applications in e-              to enable such high quality distance learning to the
learning and enable parallel learning by helping to       Rural masses. Furthermore, as more and more
break the cycle of literacy followed by computer          users get on the Net, clogging is happening and
literacy.                                                 the Net is unable to provide the level of quality
                                                          needed for high-end interactive e-learning
This paper will bring out these two technologies -        applications.
The Next Generation Internet and Natural
Language Interfaces and discuss their potential for       Applications which can be enabled by this
e-learning applicability in Rural India.                  technology include Virtual Laboratories and Digital
                                                          Libraries. An interesting application of the Next

Generation Internet is the area of Digital Libraries.       these technologies could be of great use to build
Very high bandwidth and improved quality of                 various customised training applications for the
service will permit applications such as continuous         Rural Indian. Rural based NGO's which are
digital video and audio to be used for a very wide          working for Rural development in India could then
range of Library applications. Images and                   build such training applications directly without
Multimedia can supplement text based reading                needing to wait for the IT industry to develop
and learning at the Rural level. The Advanced               applications for them. Natural Language Interfaces
Internet will also permit Multimedia interfaces to          along with touchscreen technology and voice
the user of the Library as well as real time                enabled inputs could be a way by which the
Consultation with experts over video conference.            National Literacy mission could be achieved
In addition, computer companies like Sun                    through a process of parallel learning and the
Microsystems are collaborating with the Internet 2          cycle of literacy followed by computer literacy and
project to create a testbed for higher education.           usage can be broken. In addition, automatic
As, of today, this is restricted to the USA, but it         translation systems are available today on the
could be extended to remote parts of India as well          Web, which enable automatic translation of
in future. Through this Testbed, students will be           messages and content from English into several
able to find and communicate with experts and               International languages. Developments can be
other interested students through instant                   made by which our villagers will be able to access
messaging and video conferencing. The Advanced              the Net in their own language and hence
Internet will also facilitate the development of            dependency on an English translator will be
Multimedia       courseware       across     various        reduced.
development platforms in a highly distributed
environment.                                                The Ministry of Information Technology is already
                                                            involved in several projects such as Bharat
The student based in Rural India will be able to            Bhasha Kosh, Web based learning system in
access the best Libraries and Laboratories in the           Indian languages, Speech Synthesis system at
World. The Carnegie Mellon University's                     CEERI Pilani and Multilingual dictionaries. IIT
Informedia project is already a step in the direction       Madras have developed an Indian Language word
of Digital Libraries. The Next Generation Internet          processor which has been tested at an NGO in
will also permit Virtual Laboratories by which              Madras. Similarly NCST'S MATRA project 's focus
students using Laboratory instruments connected             is on man-machine synergy.
to the Advanced Internet will be able to conduct a
Laboratory experiment remotely. Therefore, a                Natural Language interfaces can be used as front
student in a Village in India will be able to virtual       ends to databases as well as with Speech based
access the best Laboratories in the world. The              systems. Both these technologies have great
University of North Carolina has already attempted          potential for Rural India since especially speech
the setting up of a Virtual Laboratory on the               based systems since E-learning can actually be
Advanced Internet.                                          voice enabled through this technology and the
                                                            villager will be freed from his lack of literacy and
3. Natural Language Interfaces:                             therefore inability to communicate.

Natural Language Technology is another area,                4. Conclusion
which could be of great use in e-learning. The
technology, though in a nascent stage today, has            There are several technologies available to enable
a tremendous potential for Rural India. There is            distance learning today. Two such emerging
already a lot of work going on in this technology in        technologies which have great potential for E-
India - prominent among them being the projects             learning in Rural India are The Next Generation
at CDAC, NCST, and at IIT Madras, Kanpur,                   Internet and Natural Language Interfaces. Both
Bombay.                                                     these technologies are still at a very early stage
                                                            both in India as well as abroad, however, our
Natural Language Interfaces is a way by which               Industry and policymakers can take advantage of
humans can communicate with the machine in a                these technologies and utilise them for the benefit
language that is natural to them. The Interfaces to         of the rural masses of India.
Natural Languages can be to various areas
including Intelligent Tutoring systems and Virtual
Reality systems. In an e-learning environment

References                                                    [2]
[1] "The potential of the Advanced Internet Project for       [4]
India" by Nilay M.Yajnik proceedings of the Annual            [5] Home page of Ministry of Information   Technology,
Conference of the Computer Society of India,                  Govt. of India
September 2000,Chennai, India, published by Allied            [6]
Publishers Ltd.


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