29 May 2009

How Shilpa Sayura became a Telecenter Sustainability Tool in Sri Lanka

We just finished implementing Shilpa Sayura in 150th Nenasala in Sri Lanka. Thanks to the hard work by many people during last four years; Shilpa Sayura, The Local Language e Learning System, now has become a sustainability tool in Nenasala Telecenters of Sri Lanka. I think it's an e-Sri Lanka, Nenasala, ICTA e-SDI, e fusion as well as a Global Telecenter and ICT4D success to be told again and again.

First I must reveal the secret of how Shilpa Sayura idea was emerged?

My children missed my assistance in their school work as I had to work away from my rural home and I was never fond of external tuition as a solution for two reasons;

1. Tuition fees were too expensive for me.
2. It produces people with less individual skills.

In 2004, My wife Yamuna and I were not happy when our daughter became 33rd in the class. I felt responsible and decided do something. As a web master, I spend lot of time on internet. I started collecting educational information for my children. It simply started working; My children liked the content and began to improve. Soon my collection became over 1 GB; My children called it "ency" and I learned that e content and self learning could be the way forward for children having educational problems.

Then came the ICTA e-Society Development funding opportunity for innovative ICT4D ideas and solutions. Having come from rural communities, we all knew what it means to have access to "Good education". We decided to focus on the burning problem of education in rural Sri Lanka. By that time we were involved in research and development of local language technologies for community (www.kaputa.com) and for government (www.gov.lk) needs.

In our preliminary research, We learned that in rural Sri Lanka more than 51.8% of children fail in Ordinary Level examination due to lack of teachers and educational resources. Furthermore, communication, transport, energy and poverty were their key challenges in accessing better education. This resulted large number of early school drop-offs; and they were deprived of opportunities in life for better employment and higher education essential to face challenges in the 21st Century.

We saw the opportunity made available with The Nenasala Telecenters set up Island wide by ICTA. Our research on Nenasala found that they were facing a critical sustainability risks due to lack of local content to attract the community. Our team brainstormed days to design Shilpa Sayura. e Learning, National Curriculum, Local Language, Self learning, Telecenters and Sustainability were our prime keywords to make a winning proposal to ICTA. A grant of USD 50,000 was lot of money to make Shilpa Sayura .

We started from scratch as our language problems were unique. We developed a local language e learning software and content. We were inspired by the support we got. We were committed and dynamically changed from what we learned and continuously improved Shilpa Sayura. We can't exactly count the number of stakeholders involved. The small team grew big as we shared the project. The Teachers, professionals, Telecenter operators, parents, students, rural communities, friends, ICTA and many others should be credited for Shilpa Sayura success.

Our efforts were paid-off. Shilpa Sayura became ICTA e-Society flagship project. During last 3 years, Shilpa Sayura has created thousands of small and big success stories enough to write a book. Shilpa Sayura made Nenasala reach rural children providing a practical solution to their educational problems and developed Telecenter operators to become local, regional and national champions; Finally brought Sri Lanka fame wining several global ICT4D awards.

Most importantly, Shilpa Sayura has changed lives of thousands of rural children; It helped them to come up in life and helped sustaining Nenasala; Now Shilpa Sayura expands island wide replicating in 150 Telecenter is making more impact than expected.

Personally, I am also benefited as my daughter Poornima, taking O/L exam this year, has emerged among the best students in the class by improving her average marks to 92.4. It is a measurable Shilpa Sayura impact. So I am well paid off.

Now, Shilpa Sayura has become a tool to make Telecenters sustainable by offering National Curriculum in local language for self and group e learning services. It has become a binding thread to network telecenters. Shilpa Sayura assisted by ICTA, has just begun our new journey to change the Telecenter movement in Sri Lanka. We are not Looking back, It's only future that we think of. There are over 450 more Nenasala Telecenters needing us to reach them.

With the war stopped; The North and East of Sri Lanka are now awakening with new hopes and beliefs. We all have a duty to perform to re-build our Nation by creating an enabling environment for National reconciliation. As our contribution, we have initiated developing the Tamil Version of Shilpa Sayura to empower all communities with the right to learn; and to contribute proactively in Nation building process.

As we feel today, Shilpa Sayura has become a tool for Telecenter Sustainability and a common thread of binding the Nenasala Telecenter Network of Sri Lanka. Shilpa Sayura success is blended with its meaning "The Sea of Knowledge"; open, deep, local and shared across the world.

Niranjan Meegammana
Shilpa Sayura Foundation

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