Vivek Sawant: Pioneer of computer literacy for masses

It is sometime amazing to realize and know how some unassuming personalities you were aware of, making their mark in the society. You are forced to visualize the way you have known them and to trace their association with you; also their journey. Same thing happened to me recently when someone was interviewing Vivek Sawant on the radio.

I was in last year of college where I was studying computer science. We had one of the elective subjects which was related to computer hardware. I had opted for that and Vivek Sawant was our teacher for that. I still distinctly remember, we reaching out the college very early, for his lectures. He preferred early morning sessions. I along with my friends would hang around at the main gate of the college, waiting for him to arrive. We would seem him enter on his two wheeler and walk to towards classroom. Tall, skinny, with his full sleeved shirt tucked out, trouser with bell-bottom style drop, simple and serious face, almost looked like the man in hurry. He, of course, was good and passionate teacher, as I remember, with ability to explain points by simplifying. After few months, the sessions ended, and I never saw him again. But I had kept hearing/reading about his achievements in computer literacy in Maharashtra.

It was revealing to know many facets of his personality when I listened the interview with much interest. The interview was in two parts. First part focused on his upbringing, and C-DAC days. Later part was on his involvement in MKCL for which he more known. When I heard about his background, I came to know the reason behind his simplicity and humble personality. He belonged to family of freedom-fighter father who was Sanskrit expert, a dedicated and committed teacher as well. He got dose of his values from the family on commitment towards society upliftment. It naturally influenced him and took the teaching profession after his education.

He was teaching in Fergusson College in Pune on the subjects such as Physics and Electronics. In 1988-89, he was involved in C-DAC activities when it was lead by Dr Vijay Bhatkar, for government of India, as India wanted to get into super computing space. This is the time he was visiting faculty for us when I was college. He and Bhatkar played pioneering role in C-DAC by forming a team of engineers and architecting and building super computer and related software and tools. Few years later, he was pulled into computer education field by forming and head education arm of C-DAC called ACTS. Today, C-DAC’s ACTS is known for its quality education in advanced computer science areas.

Almost a decade later, as computerization was happening on large scale all over in India, government was also going towards e-governance, the government of Maharashtra felt the need spreading computer literacy to masses, so that benefits of e-governance can reach to society in faster manner. He, once again, was summoned for this job. Vivek Sawant’s value based upbringing came handy here as it had imbibed social angle to his personality. He made full use of that and came up with various innovative ways of making MKCL work by partnering with small and solo interpreters to reach vast population all over Maharashtra, and also by coming up with eLearning delivery framework, to reduce the cost as well. As he said(and I found later on MKCL website), his six tenets for MKCL were: Bigger, Better, Faster, Cheaper, Wider, Deeper. This is explained as:

  • to a very large population with various diversities : Bigger
  • with high quality of relevance and applicability in life and work : Better
  • at an affordable cost : Cheaper
  • within a shortest possible time : Faster
  • with a wide accessibility from metros to villages : Wider
  • in a mass-personalized manner : Deeper personal experience

For over last 15 years, the kind of response, success and spread of MKCL has managed to achieve, it is no doubt, is a success story and firm belief of Vivek Sawant in knowledge based and value based education system to fight various problems in the society, made it possible.

It was indeed motivating to understand his social focus and using technology to change the society and empower them. At the end of the interview, he quoted one Sanskrit verse which explained meaning Bharat(Sanskrit name for India). The meaning goes as the society or country which is striving to go after knowledge. I think he is truly living that verse by his deeds.

Update: Today, Sept 5, is Teacher’s Day in India. I wrote this blog on Aug 28. Retrospectively, if I look at it, this article is my tribute to teachers.

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