“The future is here …… it is just not evenly distributed”  William Gibson

Amit Singhal, Google

Amit Singhal, Google (Photo credit: niallkennedy)

It may be that Silicon Valley in California is the most influential place on earth. As a high tech center – it is the working home of the most influential people driving forward the Digital Age.  It is fascinating to see the success and influence that Indian immigrants have had there. The role call is impressive – Pradeep Sindhu who some claim is responsible for broadband, Nikesh Arora and Amit Singhal at Google, Salman Khan the inventor of an incredible online academy recently putting him into Time magazines most influential list.  It is clear that the immigrants who have the most clout in Silicon Valley and who are the largest group are Indians.  15% of startups in Silicon Valley are of Indian origin according to this commentator.  Many of them come from the six IIT’s  (Indian Institutes of Technology), created in the 1940s by Prime Minister Nehru. These elite institutions produce some of the world’s smartest techies. They are more competitive than most of the West elite universities. Last year about 3% of the students who applied to anIIT got in.

Pre digital India….. in 2012

However the situation here in Manvi couldn’t be further from the case. If you go into the villages apart from sporadic electricity the only think that reminds you that we have entered a digital age are the ubiquitous mobile phone.  I have spent the last couple of weeks opening email accounts for the older and brighter students.  They are keen to have them but they do not know how to use them.  So when I explain how it will be necessary at college, for finding out job opportunities it is a strange experience for me, I feel like I have landed on another planet.  Even this Christmas in the remote mountains of the Phillipines I was amazed to find out that many of the villagers (who had only been persuaded to put aside their headhunting traditions 20 years ago)  had facebook accounts.  Many of them would walk up to 24 hours to get to the nearest internet cafe – something that amazed me.  But here in rural India, people are definitely not plugged in.

From an educational point of view, there is a great danger of  creating a digital divide.  The Digital Economy, the Knowledge Economy all seem to indicate that digital skills are very important for kids.  Marj Prensky calls them Digital Natives, children born after the internet.  If anything we digital immigrants, born before, are only just becoming aware of the dark side of the digital revolution – addiction, pornography, isolation etc.  Despite of all this I get a sense that many of the students are just being left behind.  So there are two challenged here in Manvi. Not only is it the first generation of students – they will quickly need to become digitally savvy.  The world is changing at a bewildering pace. If anything Digital Technology – the internet, projectors, allows access to greater educational resources, like the fabulous Kahn Academy. No longer does a teacher have to be in the same physical location as their students. There has also been some talk of the Jesuits creating a virtual university, as we probably have the greatest international educational network, why not get some of the best teachers / lecturers giving one day a month on-line tutoring to children in refugee camps or the school here?