TECH TALK: The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem: Colleges

The second leg of the computer education initiative revolves around making connected computers available in colleges, with legal software. Here are six ideas:

1. Create computer labs, of the kind we discussed for schools. In colleges, there would be many more computers, since students will be spending a lot more time on computers. In fact, given the Rs 5,000 cost, it should be possible to provide a computer in every hostel room. The 3-year cost for such a computer would be about Rs 10,000 Rs 5,000 for the computer, Rs 2,000 in maintenance costs over the next 2 years, Rs 2,000 as the loaded cost for the thick server, and another Rs 1,000 as networking and finance costs. Thus, over a 36-month period, the cost works out to Rs 300 per month. This could be recovered through student fees, if not provided by the institution.

2. Consider setting up WiFi networks, rather than running wires across the place. This creates a wireless envelope allowing for connectivity across the campus.

3. Provide each student with a permanent email address of the form (or something similar). This email address will not change even after the student graduates. The difference is that while on campus, each student is given a mailbox, while after graduation, the email is forwarded to another address specified. In addition, every student can be given storage space on the server for his files and mails. Access to the students accounts will be possible from any computer on campus, since all these computers are the 5KPCs (thin clients).

4. Make public all research work and projects done by the students. This makes it possible for others to see what work is being done, and instead of duplicating the efforts, work on complementary projects. In fact, students should be encouraged to publish personal weblogs (again, this becomes possible since they have access to a computer in their rooms). What the weblogs do is work as a mechanism for students to build up their profile during the time they are there in the institutes.

5. Ensure that all students learn computer fundamentals logic, data structures, programming languages and networking basics. Knowledge of what computers can do is going to be critical in whatever professional activity they do be it in engineering, arts, management or medicine.

6. Encourage faculty to publish their lecture notes and presentation online. In fact, the widespread use of computers can create for a richer interactive environment between faculty and students.

On the software front, the server would comprise of three sub-systems, built on Linux and open-source software:

  • Messaging, consisting of email, instant messaging, proxy, firewall, anti-virus, and a global address book.
  • File, Print, Applications Server: this is the thick server. It also serves as the Central Repository Server (a Digital Library) and has all the Linux/Open-Source software needed. This is replicated at each college, and updated regularly. This ensures that when students need software, its available locally on the LAN to experiment with.
  • Content Management and Collaboration: Calendaring, Weblogs, Website management, Knowledge Management (creating Communities of Practice) and other collaboration applications.

    The set of ideas outlined here can be applied to every educational institution. Engineering colleges, can, however, do a lot further in building out the 5KPC Ecosystem.

    Tomorrow: Engineering Colleges

    TECH TALK The Rs 5,000 PC Ecosystem+T

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.