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Monday, November 26, 2001

Have computers started ruling us?
J.K. Bhandari

THERE is much hype in the media as well as the society about computer literacy. No doubt, literacy of all kinds and at levels is a welcome human activity. However, in the name of a so-called revolution in the making, computer education has become a craze for the young and the old. It is pertinent as well as interesting to analyse how good this education and the related technology is for a Third world nation like India.

While literacy is a gain, a craze is a futile indulgence. So is true for computer education. Teaching shops have mushroomed all over the country imparting so-called education in a variety of packages and capsules. And mind it, the faculty imparting this "education" is self-trained or self-tipped to this pedestal. They have no standard curricula, no teaching experience and a teaching strategy, no dependable testing but a pre-promised certificate of a successful result for every candidate who pays the full fees for the course. This is a fraud of the highest kind. This all is being perpetrated in full exploitation of high sounding phrases like computer literacy and the great digital divide in our society.


Where do we need computers? How much we need them and to whose advantage? I think the use of computers in our society is like having the benefit of ever-increasing TV channels made available to our households. Computers can benefit our society and this nation in a numerous ways. But then which numerous ways and have they already started benefitting? We pause for an encouraging reply to all such queries.

A computer enthusiast is usually heard promising that with the use of computers, it will soon become orderly and efficient all around. Mind it, computers cannot work for us; we have to work on them though they can help us fight the drudgery of repetitive work. A computer system works on the basic principle of GIGO (garbage in garbage out). Therefore, the data or record has to be faithfully entered, preserved and updated regularly for efficient working of even a computer-aided system of administration or governance. The patient worker is, no doubt, aided in his work by a computer but certainly an employee cannot be dispensed with. A computer cannot replace him.

In India, mainly banks and railway reservation systems have computerised their working till date. Though it would be cynical to debunk it altogether yet the sights of customers waiting desperately or turned away since the machines or system being out of order are becoming increasingly common. Add to it the impending blues of software corruption, hard-disk-crashes and mistaken data deletions. Computers are not our making; they have not evolved out of our natural working; their literacy may be well cultivated but it is not naturally absorbed in general by our native bent of mind. Our forte is our immense manpower and the incalculable potential of human hands.

Let us not discard computers but let them not be adopted as a mindless craze without caring where to absorb the young so-called computer literates being turned out now literally in every nook and corner of our cities and towns.

Many centres and business enterprises have made great money in imparting computer education. They invited and promised through all sorts of costly publicity blitz. A few years ago, they were the only centres of computer education. Our universities remained in unmindful bliss of their responsibility in this regard. Now, they have woken up, but they appear to copy the business model of computer education set up all these years by private commercial enterprises. Consequently, the franchisee and street-end study centres culture has come into being.

Professor Hari Gautam, the UGC Chairman, took pains in the recently concluded meeting of Vice-Chancellors to disapprove of this trend. No doubt, this makes an interesting study to find what feeds the vitals of this well groomed, well caressed and cash-yielding franchisee and study centres system.

Once again taking stock of computer literates and computer density in our society, we have to keep in mind that computers do help or reward honest and hardworking user, but it is merely a plaything and undependable piece of machinery for a society given to shirking work and irresponsible performance. Third world countries must optimise the computer density in their offices and work places, failing which they would be soon doing the same with computers that they did to their earlier recruited staff in banks that is relieving them with voluntary retirement packages.