An Year in a Review : Lessons Leaned in ICT 4 Development

19th November 2007

Making of a Winning Proposal
First time in Sri Lanka, after two years eSri Lanka project was formed, an announcement was made requesting innovative ICT4DEV project proposals for grants. Creative but, It was bit unusual for private sector to apply for a community ICT grants which is usually for NGOs only.

Initial response was very high ICTA received 247 expressions of interest including ours, which was for helping rural children with self learning with digital content. After several workshops ICTA asked 150+ participants to come up with a final proposal on competitive basis. I believe everyone had a bright idea, but the winning proposal has to be the brightest, and we wanted to make it. We had been looking for a such a opportunity for years as all our work was connected to community ICT and local content.

There was a points scheme unavailable to applicants. We had to score best to be on the top. Although we had the best experiences in local content and developing local language technology for years, We were competing with top notch NGOs who had best ideas to win grants. ICT4DEV was brand new to us. We decided get started bottom up.

We went to the villages to find what we can do with our expertise on ICT. The villagers told us that they can't to get better price for their crop, it was the same problem with ours, can't get better price for our work in a highly supplied ICT market.

We said we can handle a different problem. Then they said that their children can't get jobs.

It clicked us deep. Why they have no jobs? because all of them learn what's available in the school, not what they are talented for. Inheriting from rural communities, we had the same issue, But we had jobs because we self learned ICT lately. We can help them to be like us.

We said we will do something to help their children's education, to help them become future ICT professionals through self learning.

The GCE Ordinary Level examination is one of the crucial examinations in the country which decides the future education of the children. Too sad, over 52% failed in 2005 and majority were from rural communities.

We asked failed children what exactly was the reason? They failed math, so whole exam was failed. They haven't had teachers much of the 5 years spent from grade 6-11. They had no labs and other resources. They even didn't have art teachers in rural schools when urban schools had extra teachers. All what they experienced was coming and going teachers around the year. No body wanted to stay in a village 35 km from main road, or a place famous for malaria, elephants or highest poverty.

As ICT pros, we do quite self learning on the internet, can't they do the same ? we asked among our self. But where can they access internet ?

Nenasala Tele Center (NTC)Network setup by ICTA is fast growing island wide. We tested their bandwidth, it was not adequate for multimedia, audio or for even larger graphics. What about large number of Used PCs not having internet access. We wanted to serve places with out internet. We had to go deep and local.

Then we developed a new idea, a localized digital self learning system for 8 subjects of grade 6-11, It was a massive ask, but that was what they wanted needed?

Then came the issue of content. Where can we get it? How do we get the acceptance for a content created by a private company for National education. We went to a group of teachers in the neighborhood and asked their assistance, and the National Institute of Education for Official curriculum. Teachers loved our idea and formed a group to assist us. We had devised the acceptance. We established relationship with deep south NTC operators to pilot test the project. We have all angles covered by that time and felt confident. Actually we thought very big but acted in our own local context. we simply made it bottom up, changing and re-working concepts dynamically as we keep learning the problem!

It was our winning proposal.

So we won 1st grant in the history of e-Society in Sri Lanka. Rs 5m is a big grant and a big ask too. In any of the community ICT projects the beginning is existing, specially when we receive a community ICT grant first time. The feeling is so good that we feel the recognition of our idea. That is where we started overdoing our effort, which finally become the essence of the Success.

We don't have any photos or videos of we receiving the award from the president. We didn't even go to media to announce about our achievement of winning. Actually we haven't achieved anything at that point but a Rs. 5m grant and everything to be delivered. The only thing we had was a good project proposal.

The Content Map
The Project got started. Everyone became suddenly busy to go back to school to do ordinary level. The first milestone was to create a Content Map. We studied and analyzed over 96 NIE curriculums and teacher Handbooks on 8 subjects. The help from the teacher group was great. We applied the basic principles in Software Engineering the "Objective Oriented System Analysis and Design Methodology" was our approach.

We derived about 8000 topics under 8 subjects and set us a massive target to cover 50% of the National Curriculum. Content map was done, it was our guide.

The Crisis Handling
The Rs 5m seemed big until we had started incurring expenses. One of the major issues we faced was all payments were made on delivered milestones, no advances although unusual for grants. Everybody had to wait, Everybody were committed.