Engineering colleges can be the hubs for both the requisite manpower development and for propagating the Rs 5,000 PC (5KPC) ecosystem. Here are five more ideas:
1. Ensure that the projects done have industry applicability. For this, all students should be spending 6 months at industry in their final year working on Linux/open-source based projects. This is the period which bridges academic work to the world outside. It can also serve to expose enterprises to open-source software. Students can take up vertical industries and create relevant solutions. This work with enterprises will also help them with employment offers from the places where they work, provided they do a good job.
2. Contribute to open-source software projects. There are many projects (eg. Wine) which can do with additional development resources. For the student community hungry for projects, what better opportunity to make a difference! India and China have a very large pool of engineering talent which can be used to build upon the base of open-source software. Considering that these two countries will be the biggest consumers of computers and software in the coming years, the cost savings can be significant. For this, it will also mean that the faculty will need to look beyond rehashing the previous years projects but think more managerially and create multi-year development efforts. So far, few notable software contributions have come from the worlds developing nations. The engineering colleges have an opportunity to change this.
3. Make the engineering colleges responsible for the neighbourhood community. Engineering colleges dot the landscape. Because of their ubiquitous locations, they can be thought of as technology hotspots and can provide services to institutions in the vicinity. For example, students at engineering colleges can take up responsibility for teaching computers at nearby schools. (During my days at IIT, I remember joining the NSS and teaching students from nearby schools this program of computer education can be an extension of such a program.) Alternately, they can become part-time system administrators at nearby hospitals, bank branches, government offices or SMEs. Either way, they can now be given an opportunity to deploy their skills in the community.
4. Start a Linux Certification Course. The need of the hour for the Linux-based 5KPCs to proliferate along with applications is for more engineers to be familiar with Linux and system administration. A certification program will create the confidence among other organizations to start deploying Linux.
5. Deploy Linux-based Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) to encourage students to get familiar with software development on Linux. This needs to be combined with a revamp of the curriculum which besides teaching languages like C and C++ also places emphasis on Perl, PHP and Python.
The 5KPC Ecosystem creates a new set of opportunities for students as they graduate from their colleges. By becoming users of computers powered by Linux and open-source software, they can be the harbingers of the next computing revolution. The 5KPC can also bridge students to enterprises, thus also becoming an employment generator for these students when they graduate. The 5KPC has a potential to become a bottom-up agent for change in the developing nations. All it needs is a little push from the government agencies in charge of education to make Linux and open-source part of the core education curriculum.
Next Week: The 5KPC Markets (continued)