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A Decade of Free Laptops to Students in Assam – Reality Check

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A decade ago, when the Tarun Gogoi led Congress State Government in Assam announced the Anundoram Borooah Award for meritorious students where all students scoring above 60% in HSLC (10th Board exam) were to be rewarded by a high notch PC (changed to Laptop few years thenceforth), there were few who complained.

The optimists saw it as one good chance to boost the education sector, to develop the growing human resource index in the state and to attract huge IT prospects and development. The old educationalists, with mere cautions, welcomed it.

The opportunists, quite obviously the Government and the layers engulfing it saw it as a chance to milk money on the book. Writing in black and white the numeric digits and zeroes racing behind them were commissions and shares apart from the profit of the sellers and distributors of the hardware. it was one good way to use the funds of the centre, a way no one in the Governing body needs to use brains much about policies and stuff. Most importantly, it served the politics perfect,- the 16 something’s winning the laptops from Government are the young and new vote bank in next elections.

The pessimists only complained that students, till a year ago, had to wait for years and months to get a small scholarship of few thousands and now the game is unfair! Yes, scholarships till then were meant only for the deserving meritorious ones scoring high marks or from poor economic backgrounds. Ones who scored above 90 or 80 deserve scholarships or rewards and not any Nodai or Bhodai for just making it to 60 out of 100, they argued. Soon most neighborhoods in the state saw at least one grinning teenager who could display his or her computer which was rewarded to. The pessimist had to shut up least he would be tagged as a Stupid, Just-Jealous person in his place.

The realist either did not exist then or simply did not show up anywhere.

Now that a decade has gone by and the first batch of students who got computers are definitely either working or sitting idle awaiting a job interview to apply for, it is time for the realism.

There is no sign of an IT industry taking shape in Assam yet and other states that do not spend croroes in laptops to students are just racing ahead. Tens of thousands of young IT professionals from Assam and other North Eastern states are working with MNCs in other cities in India or Abroad, yet no scope for an entrepreneur to set up an IT industry on own. Rate of unemployment, even after Education Minister’s Great stunt with TET teachers remains record high. Few Engineering or Higher Education Colleges makes the flow of students to Delhi’s and Bangalore’s even the more.

Shankar Bhuyan, from Golaghat district says, my son got a computer three years back. Since me and my wife have no idea how to use it, he used it alone or with friends. Few months back, I caught him and his friends watching a bad (porn) CD and then I have asked him to stop using it.

Bhupen, 27, says that he used his younger brother’s laptop for this thesis work in his PHD. It’s a pity, he said, that Government could gift thousands of laptops to 16 year olds for scoring 60, but could not help with a single laptop for those who actually need it, such as those pursuing higher education like PHD or MBA in the state.

Sikha, who got a computer in 2005, is now a housewife and her computer was sold off. I used it only to listen to songs, she said with a smile to our correspondent. I had 80 GBS of only songs, mostly Assamese and Bollywood, she boasted.

The Government gave away lakhs of laptops and never cared to maintain any data for the future such as what career path did those student take up, – how many became engineers, doctors, teachers, bankers, IT professionals, Sales and marketing, journalism, arts, entrepreneurs and assuming very few would have become farmers. There is no way to track effectively whether the laptops helped them in their career, but from the word of the mouth and if you do a public polling, I am sure we would find the gifted laptops as useless from a career point of view.

There is no comprehensive training module or methodology set up by the Government anywhere in the state that could help the students get properly trained in computers and its functionalities. Most students end up using that laptop as a library for playing games, music, watching videos and those with an internet connection,- Facebook and Porn. When there is no effective training and utilization methodology, the students, all teenagers are left with nothing but to use the laptops for everything except academic purpose. They get exposed to all the dirt of internet which shapes their growing minds and the fact their parents usually knows nothing what happens when you click the mouse does not help. Needless to say, we have more number of spoilt teenagers now than ever before. A spoilt, materialistic new generation who does not care about ideals is being nourished and brought up by the carrot of free gifts thrown at them for minimum hard work.

Worse, now laptops would be given to students scoring just 50%! Can the Government or the Education Minister justify how a student’s effort in scoring a 90% and one who merely gets a 50% be treated equal. All that it explains is that now the share of Commission from each laptop would be more,- more money in the pocket at the expense of Center’s funds. From the very beginning, the Anundoram Borooah Award laptops are accused to be used as a scheme of milking money by current Education Minister Himanta Biswa Sharma (who is also the Minister for IT Development) along with the Heads of Assam Electronics Development Corporation Ltd(AMTRON). Dipping further, there are even claims that the laptops used in this scheme had LINUX operating system because AMTRON had a good share of money from Free Software Foundation personnel. Linux computer operating system though assembled under the model of free and open source software needs a lot of supporting software and add-ins which are mostly not available for the Personal Computers. With WINDOWS ruling the market, it was a good marketing strategy to reach out to young students and make them habituated to LINUX and thereby reap off profits through its other associated software in the future. It needs to be mentioned that while LINUX is being used as SERVER Operating System as for it’s security ties, WINDOWS have always been a dominator over LINUX in regards of Personal Computer’s Operating System. Laptop with LINUX is simply worthless to the HSLC passed students who are always changing their operating system to WINDOWS once they receive the Anundoram Borooah Award.  It does not need mentioning what kind of shares and commissions goes to the top of the Government Layer who sees through these things before implementing the process with a green signal.

It is high time we came out of the dreamy reward scheme that helps no one in reality. The same money could be far better utilized if it was used in schemes for development of the students. Why not use that money for free coaching to meritorious students who wants to compete in national level Exams such as the IIT or PMT. Why not coach and mentor deserving IAS aspirants with that money, why not sponsor the smart ones with all expenses to study in excellent educational institutes abroad and then mandate them to return and use what they learnt there for our state’s development.

The idea of rewarding students for passing a 50% does not make any sense in this competitive world today. Especially in that Assam, where no IT Loan for unemployed youths carrying higher ability to IT skills has been yet naturalized neither by the Govt nor by the Govt undertaken banks. If we have to create academic envoys of our state, it has to be meaningful, one that will be rewarding to our people and state. Spending crores in Laptops for students is just making money fly away outside of Assam to the sellers and we are not getting anything out of it. If indeed the Government is serious, why not give low interest loans to the students instead, help them get properly educated, help them with jobs and get the returns back. Or better, identify potential leaders amongst meritorious students, groom them up as future entrepreneurs and develop the state’s economy. It is such things that can be called a scheme or a plan, not distribution of useless free gifts spending croroes of public money that only imparts the urge to make easy-living or easy-money amongst students.

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A Decade of Free Laptops to Students in Assam – Reality Check

By: Priyankan Goswami Read time: 7 min