Editors Note: Guest Blogger Marshall J. Krinitz is the founder of More Than Tomorrow Project, which has successfully established two computer learning centers in the state of Himachal Pradesh. We here at TC-I were quite thrilled by their work and invited Marshall to write us a guest post.
Many developing nations are aggressively pursuing strategies to increase their access to communication and information technology, motivated by a healthy vision of the future. They envision a future where educators can enhance meager libraries with online texts, where tele-medicine supplements the limited resources of rural hospitals, where local artisans can market their crafts to a global audience, and where the next generation of innovators script computer code for international businesses.
Yet there are a number of significant obstacles impeding this vision. First, while the price of a personal computer has receded remarkably in recent years, PCs still cost more than the average annual income in many developing nations. Second, the Internet is a medium of written text, which makes it inaccessible to those who cannot read. Likewise, as a majority of the content on the internet is disseminated in English many potential users in the developing world are severely limited in what they can access and accomplish online. Lastly, while there is a great deal of content offered online relevant to the information needs of, for example, a wine aficionado or golfing enthusiast, what is available online to help a rural farmer solve the problems she faces everyday?
Working to Bridge the Last Mile of the “Digital Divide.”
In May of 2007, The More Than Tomorrow Project was founded in an effort to provide communities in the developing world with access to communication and information technologies, as well as associated computer-literacy competencies. The organization’s guiding principle was the belief that if we partner with people, especially people in poor, rural areas, and provide them the cutting-edge tools with which to enhance their lives, we can initiate a new dynamic. We can create a space for grassroots innovation to emerge in ways that no outsider could ever have predicted or imagined. In short, we open up the future to everyone.
Our approach places strong emphasis on community self-management, financial independence, and the long-term sustainability of each computer center. Most of the hardware and software for our centers are elicited through donations, and are refurbished, installed, and maintained by a cadre of dedicated volunteers.
Students are expected to pay a nominal fee per month for instruction that includes word processing applications, accounting programs, spreadsheets and computer graphics. We look to run classes in rooms within pre-existing infrastructure in as much as possible.
In addition, we recruit, screen, and train community members to be teachers for each center. Further, the funds required for teacher salaries and facility maintenance are generated largely from student tuition, but other income sources may be part of a center’s financial plan (e.g. the provision of services at a fee to community groups or businesses).
Partnering with Indian-based non-governmental organizations, five MTT volunteers from the New York Metro area—with eight computers in tow—traveled to Northern India during the Summer of 2007 and helped to establish two computer learning centers in the villages of Sheela and Duranna, in the state of Himachal Pradesh (HP). In addition to providing each community with hardware, software, and a well-developed curriculum, MTT recruited, trained and funded each center’s instructors, while also engaging in community organizing and resource building. Today, these centers are community run, and provide computer access and education to over sixty students.