COIMBATORE: In a major push to technology-driven learning, the state government has planned to extend the free laptop scheme, currently meant for higher secondary and college students, to Class IX and X students of government and government-aided schools across the state.
The first ‘formal’ intimation of the proposal was made by education-minister-K-A-Sengottaiyan in Erode on Sunday. Sources at the secretariat said the minister had recently directed the education department officials to prepare a proposal to include students of Class IX and X in the free laptop scheme and forward it to the Centre for financial approval.
A pet project of the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa, the scheme was first introduced in 2011-12 for Class XII students. “The Centre has promised to look into the proposal,” Sengottaiyan told reporters on the sidelines of a Pongal gift hamper distribution function.
Earlier, the government had brought Class XI students under the scheme. More than 38 lakh free laptops have been distributed so far in the state.
Though the state government is yet to work out the total financial cost of the scheme, sources said the government may not incur a huge additional expenditure.
Issues in laptop scheme go well beyond financial burden
An education department officer said, “If a student gets a laptop in Class X, there is no need to give them another one in Class XI or XII. So there may not be a huge financial burden, but we are not aware if the government had worked out a clear blueprint”.
For the year 2017-18, the government had allotted ?758 crore to provide free laptops to 5.3 lakh students across the state. In the current academic year, the government had allotted ?758 crore for the project, according to the policy note of the school education department. Last month, Lenovo, a computer manufacturing company, won the tender to distribute 15.66 lakh laptops each at the cost of ?10,000 plus tax.
School education authorities, however, say more than the financial burden, there are other teething issues in the scheme like problems in granting tender, sale of laptops in the grey market and poor configuration. Last year, the target for distribution could not be achieved because of Jayalalithaa’s death.
Out of 5.30 lakh eligible candidates, laptops were issued only to 42,000 students last year. The announcement means giving laptops to additional 9.6 lakh students who are studying in Class IX and X, the official said. “Further the government must clarify if laptops would be given to Class IX and X students again when they reach Class XI and XII,” said an officer.
“The laptop has only basic software. Even though, there is an option to install additional features, the storage capacity and speed of the laptop do not support it. The laptops could be used only to read or write and nothing else could be done. It would be useful for those who are in desperate need of one,” said R Shruthi, one of the beneficiaries.
“With no Computer teacher in high schools, what is the point of distributing laptops to Class IX and X students? Who will teach them to use the computers?” questioned T Arulanantham of Tamil Nadu high and higher secondary teachers association. The high school students study Computer Science – a theory lesson — as a part of Science subject.