Published: 08th September 2021
This panchayat in Kerala provides free Wi-Fi to its students. Here's how it all panned out
VP Satheesan, the nodal officer for the project, talks about how they enabled every student to access online classes in Meppayur
Meppayur created a lot of buzz recently by becoming the first panchayat in Kerala to offer free Wi-Fi to school students. The project titled 'Sajjam 2021' was inaugurated by the state's Minister for General Education V Sivankutty. The project seeks to address the collective issue of enabling every student to access digital education as the pandemic continues to create disturbances in the regular schooling system across the state. We caught up with the Nodal Officer of the project, VP Satheesan, who talked about the inception of the project and how it would continue to serve the people of Meppayur even after normal schooling resumes. Excerpts from a riveting conversation:
How did it all begin for Sajjam 2021?
When this academic year began, there were a lot of complaints that arose citing non-availability of phones for children in the various schools of the panchayat. For that we called for a Panchayat Education Council (PEC) to be formed. It was under the leadership of panchayat president KT Rajan. This was constituted by headmasters of the schools as well as nodal officers in the panchayat. We conducted a survey to find out more about the children with no access to a smartphone. There are 7,138 students in Meppayur panchayat. We categorised the children into four groups. Firstly, the kids who have no access to both TV and smartphone. Second group consisted of children with access to TV but not phones. Third group was that of families with more than one child but only one phone available. Finally, there was the category of people with phone signal issues. Our first directive was to consider the 195 children who belonged to the first two categories. Our goal was to provide them with smartphones.
What were the subsequent issues that were resolved?
After this, we were faced with the problem of resolving phone range issues. We again called for a meeting of the PEC. Along with this, we contacted the internet service providers like Jio, BSNL, Vodafone and Airtel. They asked us to give correct technical details of the panchayat landscape. So we conducted another survey for this. We identified the areas where the signal was lacking and mapped it out using Google Maps. We located 40 locations within the panchayat where signals were completely lacking. We shared these details with the service providers and they were then able to rectify their signalling systems so that the service could reach all locations. Still, there was the issue of not being able to afford the internet plans for a lot of people.
I am guessing that is when you decided to implement the free Wi-Fi zones for students.
Yes, first we identified 25 anganwadis for installing the Wi-Fi hubs. But then one concern was raised that students gathering at the anganwadis would mean that COVID protocol could not be followed. So we identified clubs and libraries that could be included as hotspots for the Wi-Fi. The funding for installing it here was collected from the panchayat itself by the representatives of libraries and clubs. A total of 62 Wi-Fi zones were established which ensured that a student would have to walk for a maximum of five minutes from their home to reach a zone. Now we are trying to resolve power cut issues by enabling backup power supply to the Wi-Fi centres.
Do you have any alternate plans for these centres once normal schooling resumes?
Yes, we intend to convert these centres to knowledge hubs for students who are preparing for examinations or are learning in colleges. We also want to equip these centres in such a way that the people, who often have to go to urban areas to send an application, can instead use these knowledge hubs for free of cost and get their work done.