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Joint letter to MHRD regarding SWAYAM, India’s MOOC platform

by sflc_admin    |    November 2, 2016

In 2014, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) announced the development of SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), a national MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform. Taking after the globally acclaimed MOOCs platforms such as edX that run on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS), and combining it with the successful experience of domestic institutions in using open source technology for developing MOOCs, the SWAYAM platform was intended to be powered by similar open source software as well. However, it was recently announced on 17th June, 2016, that SWAYAM will be developed with the help of Microsoft at a cost of Rs. 38 crores. As a part of this contract, Microsoft will operate it for three years, at the end of which, it will be handed over to All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Even the RFP (Request for Proposal) prepared by Price Waterhouse Coopers Pvt. Ltd notably made no mention of the use of Open Source Software and Open Standards.

This stands in contrast to the Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India, which mandates that the Government of India shall endeavour to adopt Open Source Software in all e-Governance systems implemented by various Government organizations, as a preferred option in comparison to Closed Source Software. The policy is mandatory and it further mandates that all Government Organizations, while implementing e-Governance applications and systems must include a specific requirement in RFP for all suppliers to consider OSS along with CSS while responding. The policy states that suppliers shall provide justification for exclusion of OSS in their response, as the case may be. The RFP for the SWAYAM project is issued in clear violation of this mandatory policy as it did not have any reference to Open Source software.

In this respect, we, along with other concerned individuals and organizations wrote to the Hon’ble Minister of Human Resource Development, Mr. Prakash Javadekar expressing our concerns, and requesting them to honour the Open Source Policy of the country and re-consider the decision of choosing Microsoft as the system integrator. The text of the letter is reproduced below.

If you wish to join the effort and the list of signatories, and receive updates about this initiative, click here.

 

September 22, 2016

To

Shri. Prakash Javadekar,

Hon’ble Minister of Human Resource Development,

Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India

Shastri Bhawan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road,

New Delhi-110001.

Sub: Swayam – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) Platform – Request to adopt Open Source Software

Sir,

We are writing you to express our concern regarding the adoption of proprietary software for developing SWAYAM, the national Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) platform. MOOCs platform has the potential to improve our education scenario and to improve access to learning resources. However, basing such a socially important platform on proprietary technologies will result in vendor lock-in and wastage of financial resources.

As per publicly available records, the Sub-Committee relating to setting up of SWAYAM Platform had in its report dated March 30, 2015 recommended using Open Source Technologies. It was suggested that the E-Sikshak be developed by CDAC by incorporating all the features that are currently being used in the MOOCs platforms of IIT Bombay, Madras, and Kanpur and to utilise the National Knowledge Network (NKN) Data Centre. This report was also accepted by the Main committee.

To our surprise, we have now learned through reports in the media that Microsoft Corporation has been engaged as the system integrator to develop the MOOCs platform. Even the RFP prepared by Price Waterhouse Coopers Pvt. Ltd (PwC) for the tender does not mandate the use of Open Source Software and Open Standards. The RFP as well as the selection of Microsoft as the system integrator are against the ‘Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India’ and the ‘Policy on Open Standards for e-Governance’.

The Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India mandates that the Government of India shall endeavour to adopt Open Source Software in all e-Governance systems implemented by various Government organizations, as a preferred option in comparison to Closed Source Software. The policy is mandatory and it further mandates that all Government Organizations, while implementing e-Governance applications and systems must include a specific requirement in Request for Proposal (RFP) for all suppliers to consider OSS along with CSS while responding. The policy states that suppliers shall provide justification for exclusion of OSS in their response, as the case may be. The RFP for the SWAYAM project is issued in clear violation of this mandatory policy and it did not have any reference to Open Source software.

The premier institutes in the country like IIT Bombay, IIT Kanpur and IIT Madras have effectively used Open Source Software for their MOOCS projects. Open Source software like edX have been used across the world by various educational institutions successfully for their MOOCS projects. Considering the social relevance of the MOOCS platform and the continuous support and improvement that the platform will require in future it is imperative that the platform is built using Open Source Technologies. This will ensure that the software is vendor neutral, secure, scalable and cheaper to maintain in the long run.

Considering the importance of the project for the student community in India and the policy of the Government in promoting Open Source Software and Open Standards, it is requested that the decision to use proprietary software for the SWAYAM MOOCs platform may be cancelled and the platform may be developed using Open Source Software.

Sincerely,

CONCERNED ORGANIZATIONS:

  1. Center for Internet and Society
  2. Democratic Alliance for Knowledge Freedom
  3. Free Software Movement of India
  4. Free Software Movement Karnataka
  5. Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu
  6. IT for Change
  7. Open Source Consortium of India
  8. SFLC.in
  9. Society for Knowledge Commons
  10. Swathanthra Malayalam Computing
  11. Swecha

INDIVIDUALS

  1. Prof. Nagarjuna G. Gnowledge lab, Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai
  2. Prof Rahul De, Chairperson, Centre for Software & Information Technology Management (IIM-B), Hewlett-Packard Chair Professor
  3. Arul George Scaria, Assistant Professor of Law, National Law University, Delhi
  4. Venkatesh Hariharan, Alchemy Business Solutions LLP

Cc:

1.Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, Hon’ble Minister of State for Human Resource Development

2. The Secretary, Department of Higher Education

3. The Additional Secretary, Department of Higher Education

For further communications:

Mishi Choudhary

Executive Director, SFLC.in

mishi@softwarefreedom.org

Sign the letter


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