Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami’s announcement on Sunday that the State government proposes to provide 2GB free data per day to more than nine lakh college and polytechnic students has evoked mixed reactions.
The Chief Minister has said the scheme, which will be implemented from this month to April 2021, is meant to help students attend online classes in view of the pandemic.
Educational consultants felt a well-thought-out plan would help instead of a temporary solution, while industry representatives lauded the move as the one that would bridge the digital divide.
Tamil Nadu has been a front-runner in enabling technology-driven education for many years. Almost a decade back, the State provided free laptops to needy students and followed it up by installing smart boards in schools across the State.
“With multi-modal learning becoming the new normal, it’s heartening to note that the State is providing 2 GB data cards to students to enable them to participate in online classes, and continue their learning anytime, anywhere and with any device,” said R Ramkumar, immediate Past President of Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
He pointed out that in a new world redefined by digital, robust educational and communication infrastructure are critical for government, business and society at large.
This move by the government would significantly bridge the divide between the haves and the have nots and drive the much-needed access, equity and quality in a socially aware and inclusive society, he added.
But educational consultants felt a long-term plan after discussions with institutions would have served the purpose in a bigger way.
Why not set up hubs?
“The decision appears to be a last-minute action. Instead of spending huge money on issuing data card to students, the state government could think of setting up hubs near each college or village through national knowledge network that can offer 10 gigabits per second bandwidth. This will entail only one-tenth of the cost and the bandwidth will also be much faster,” said D Nedunchezhian, an educational consultant and founder of Technocrats India College Finder.
“Though students may carry data cards, some of the villages may not have required bandwidth of that particular company, and as a result, it may not solve the purpose. Setting up hubs in each school or village will help students use it effectively by maintaining social distancing norms near the hubs,” he added.
The proposed scheme will offer 2GB free data to students in government and government-aided arts, science and engineering colleges and polytechnics. Students receiving scholarships in private colleges will also be included in this scheme.
The data cards for the above students will be issued through the Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu Ltd (ELCOT). Though colleges have reopened for final year under-graduate and post-graduate students, majority of colleges conduct online classes.