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SWAYAM: From Open Source to Proprietary Software for India’s MOOCs

by sflc_admin    |    November 10, 2016

The Ministry of Human Rights Development (MHRD) commenced the development of a national platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for the country in 2014 under its National Mission on Education through Information & Communication Technology (NME-ICT). This platform is being developed to serve as a source for courses related to all fields from high school, starting with the 9th standard, up till post graduation.1 This one stop destination is meant to bridge the educational and digital divide by ensuring learning resources are made accessible in consonance with principles of equity and affordability in the varying socio-economic sectors of the country. In the highlights of the plans initiated by the MHRD in 2014, it took note of the announcement of SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), a national MOOC platform as one of their achievements.2

Taking after the globally acclaimed MOOCs platforms such as edX that run on open source software, 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).3 This post is an attempt to trail this decision making process that devolved from an initial full agreement on the use of open source software for creation of India’s MOOCs platform to giving the contract to Microsoft.

The first meeting of the Main Committee on SWAYAM Platform was held on 12th January, 20154 where the Chairman remarked that the platform for Indian MOOCs needs to be interoperable and the current individual initiatives by institutes around the country should go on until they can be transposed onto SWAYAM. One of the many policy considerations made by the present group of experts was that the national MOOC platform should be ‘Made in India’ with respect to its hardware, software, platform and that ‘appropriate open source technologies should be used.’ Emphasis was also made on data privacy, security and integrity being a significant part of the platform architecture. Moreover, the minutes of this meeting highlight that it was categorically mentioned that the source code of the SWAYAM platform should be in the public domain. To cultivate a better understanding regarding the most appropriate platform for SWAYAM, along with developing a road-map for the project to ensure it is sustainable and self sufficient, a Sub Committee was created to deliberate upon the existing frameworks and provide recommendations.5

The Sub Committee submitted its report on 30th March, 2015.The sub committee recommended using E-Sikshak, which is an indigenious platform developed by C-DAC, along with the open source and other features already in use by IIT Bombay, Kanpur, and Madras to host their MOOCs, and utilize NKN’s data center and connectivity network for SWAYAM.6 The Main Committee agreed to their suggestions while analysing the Sub Committee report on 22nd June, 2015 and directed the formation of an expert committee to evaluate the project proposal of C-DAC in this regard.7

On 28th October, 2015, in the 30th Project Approval Board meeting of the MHRD, it is stated that the Minister for Human Resources decided in a meeting that SWAYAM would be developed by National Informatics Centre Services Incorporated (NICSI) through NIC.8 NICSI is the arm of NIC that purports to assist by providing IT solutions for the development of e-governance projects undertaken by NIC, Deity, or other Government organizations.9 On 23rd May, 2016, it was stated that that SWAYAM project has been given to AICTE to be developed internally.10 On 17th June, 2016 it was reported that AICTE, after consultation with a technical committee along with PwC had decided to engage Microsoft as the system integrator for India’s MOOCs platform for Rs. 38 crores. The contract with Microsoft entailed their services for developing and maintaining the platform for 3 years, at the end of which, AICTE will take control.11 The beta version of the SWAYAM website is now live, and the University Grants Commission (UGC) (Credit Framework for Online Learning Courses through SWAYAM) Regulation, 2016 was notified on 19th July, 2016 that entails a system of transference of credit of courses completed under SWAYAM.12

The decision of choosing proprietary software 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 full text of this joint letter can be accessed here; and if you wish to be included in the list of signatories and be a part of this initiative, please write to mamta@sflc.in

1https://swayam.gov.in/About

2http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=109585

3http://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/internet/microsoft-to-design-app-for-indian-govts-open-online-courses/52790346 ; http://www.gadgetsnow.com/tech-news/Microsoft-to-design-app-for-governments-open-online-courses/articleshow/52789906.cms

4http://www.sakshat.ac.in/aspx/frmMinutes.aspx?docsubtype=2&docType=3&docID=5

5http://www.sakshat.ac.in/aspx/frmMinutes.aspx?docsubtype=2&docType=6&docID=6

6http://www.sakshat.ac.in/aspx/frmMinutes.aspx?docsubtype=2&docType=6&docID=6

7http://www.sakshat.ac.in/aspx/frmMinutes.aspx?docsubtype=2&docType=3&docID=5

8http://www.sakshat.ac.in/officeDocumentUploaded/29-10-2015/2015-10-28_Meeting30.pdf

9http://www.nicsi.com/index1.asp?ls_id=5&lid=1&lang=1&level=1

10http://www.nmeict.ac.in/officeDocumentUploaded/2016-05-25/2016-05-20-PABMinutes.pdf

11http://tech.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/internet/microsoft-to-design-app-for-indian-govts-open-online-courses/52790346 ; http://www.gadgetsnow.com/tech-news/Microsoft-to-design-app-for-governments-open-online-courses/articleshow/52789906.cms

12http://www.ugc.ac.in/pdfnews/0272836_moocs.pdf

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