[Reader-list] GoaLog: Computers ready to go to Goa Schools...

Patrice Riemens patrice at xs4all.nl
Mon Feb 25 15:42:10 IST 2002

BWO Frederick Noronha <fred at bytesforall.org>

Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 23:26:58 +0530 (IST)
Subject: GOALOG: Computers are getting set for distribution in Goa... 

GOALOG: Computers are getting set for distribution in Goa....

Green Hill, despite its name, is a dusty hillock between Porvorim and
Sangolda. It's just one of the many new urban centres coming up to cope with
the regionally-imbalanced pattern that Goa has been seeing. At one corner,
in the midst of an obviously low-income colony, sit some 360 computers that
were sent in under the Goa Schools Computers Project.

On Thursday evening, eight-to-ten kids crowded around one computer, near the
entrance to the godown where these were temporarily housed. "He's not giving
us a turn," complained the smaller ones of one elder boy who seemed to be
hogging the keyboard. 

They all came from the nearby poor homes, and this was their chance to play
around with a real toy -- a computer. One girl, the only one visible nearby,
hung around at a respectful distance, near the entrance gate.

To one's surprise, at least the elder ones among them seemed confident with
the Red Hat 7.2 (a distribution of the Free Software/Open Source Linux
operating system) that was installed on it.

One of the eldest later informed he was in the seventh standard (this would
put him at around 12 years of age, assuming he joined school on schedule and
wasn't detained at any point). He could be seen logging in as a 'student'.
Sometimes he typed in 'Student' instead of 'student'. And in Linux, like in
any other case-sensitive Unix flavour, that makes a big difference.

Tom Fernandes, half-German and half-Goan, a Linux enthusiast who's also
working on the Goa Schools Computers Project, tried to explain the
difference. But do concepts matter, as long as things get going?

"What's going to happen to these computers?" the gang of boys wanted to
know. On being told that they would be distributed to schools, they seemed a
trifle disappointed. Which kid likes to lose a new-found toy?

"Okay," someone continued, "which schools are they going to?" 

Someone wanted to know if Janta High School in nearby Mapusa town would get
any. Another asked if Holy Family in Porvorim was on the list. A chirpy
young lad said he learnt that government schools would be getting priority.
And yes, he himself studies at the Guirim government school.

In the background -- that's not what it was intended to be though -- a
shirtless Ashley Delaney struggled at setting up Linux on about half-a-dozen
PCs at the same time. To make his tall task somewhat easier Arvind Yadav and
Animesh Nerulkar have worked on a stick-the-CD-in solution that does a
standard-instal easily on the type of PI donated earlier-generation systems
that have been shipped in from New York.

Daryl Martyris was away in Panjim. He had phoned me earlier in the evening,
sparking off guilt for not being anywhere around the project after getting
my 'stories' on the same. In the state-capital of Goa, his mission was
trying to get fixed the ten computers that reached Goa in a non-working
condition. (Once he's done with the distribution of the PCs in schools, he's
dreaming of a project to take relevant info to the commonman through an
ICT-based initiative.)

Cut to the youngsters fooling around with the Linux-loaded PC. They're a
more interesting story than the 'real thing'....

A tenth standard student from the nearby Vidya Prabodhini looked around
tentatively. "What actually comes on a floppy-disk," he wanted to know. Try
explaining the concept that a floppy could contain text, photos or
software... to a young man in a province which has long been dreaming of
building itself up as a IT paradise.

His eyes lit up, as the inadequately-explained concept seemed to make some
sense. "Uncle, could you give me a floppy?" he asked, "maybe I could ask the
teacher to try it out..."

Others fighting for the computer keyboard were focussing on launching some
Linux-based games. Just the introduction to the section of 'graphics'
programs egged on some to experiment. But journos are not the best of
teachers; we didn't have any photo-on-a-CD just then to demo what we meant

While driving home on a two-wheeler, my daughter Riza (3) was grappling with
the idea of what so many computers were doing, all packed tightly into one
small godown. One tried to explain that these were to be distributed to
schools, for free. "Even to Lourdes Convent?" she wanted to know. That's the
village school where she's just got admission to the pre-primary.... It was
the struggle to get computers for this not so down-and-out school five years
ago that might have sparked off the feeling that citizens need to make
efforts to help Goa's schools get access to computers faster.

Before leaving, we clicked a few photos. Not because, as many believe,
donor-driven projects need photographic 'evidence' to justify their
operations. But because it underlines the point that the computer is a tool
for virtually anyone. If only they got a chance....

There has been debate over whether sending in once-used computer hardware to
the Third World is the best way of doing the job. One could have mixed
feelings about this. But, in the bargain, it seems to have planted a crucial
idea: that the computer can, and is, well within reach. Not just for those
who have the money for it. * FN 22FEB2002

Frederick Noronha * Freelance Journalist * Goa * India 832.409490 / 409783
BYTESFORALL www.bytesforall.org  * GNU-LINUX http://linuxinindia.pitas.com
Email fred at bytesforall.org * SMS 9822122436 at attcell.net * 784 Saligao Goa India
Writing with a difference... on what makes *the* difference

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