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Digital divide

Facebook opens up Internet.org to developers, responding to net neutrality advocates

Chris Daniels, Facebook's VP for Internet.org, says Facebook isn't picking the web winners through the initiative.

Facebook announced on Monday that its Internet.org app, which offers some websites for free, without data charges, is being opened up to developers. “Our goal with Internet.org is to work with as many developers and entrepreneurs as possible to extend the benefits of connectivity to diverse, local communities,"  Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post. "To do this, we’re going to offer services through Internet.org in a way that’s more transparent and inclusive.”

The lack of transparency and inclusiveness was among the criticisms that net neutrality activists have made about Internet.org, which is available in India through Reliance Communications on Android phones. In an interview at Facebook’s New Delhi office, Chris Daniels, Facebook’s vice president of product for Internet.org, explained why he believes Monday's announcement is significant.

What are the changes you are announcing today to Internet.org?
This is an important step we are taking, opening up Internet.org. This does two things. One, it invites developers to join, which we heard they want to. Two, it gives consumers more choice, which we heard they want as well.

How does it work?
If you are a developer and you have a service, you can join Internet.org if you comply with the principles we will soon publish. The process of joining the platform consists of three principles. The first is, it should encourage people to explore the broader internet. You may have links to other sites from your site, so the people are encouraged to explore beyond the basic services. Second is that you must develop a simpler version of your service to be a free basic service.

The second principle is around efficiency. This model has to work for the operators and for the business model. We need things that are data efficient on the network. Services like video or high-resolution photos aren't going to be a god fit in a free, basic service.

The third principle is a set of technical guidelines. These are technical requirements in order to zero-rate the traffic. These include guidelines such as https protocol can't be included, neither can javascript.

Currently there are around 30-odd sites on Internet.org in India. Opening it up and inviting developers could mean there could be a lot more sites on the platform. Are the operators going to be happy about this?
It has to work for operators in the long-term. What we believe though is that giving consumers more choice will make them experience some of these basic services that are valuable to them and then they can go on to explore the broader internet. When they do that, they will pay for the data, and that does work for the operator.

Is this move to open up Internet.org to developers in response to the net neutrality debate in India, as part of which Internet.org has been widely criticised as violating net neutrality principles?
We always wanted to provide more basic services as part of Internet.org. It was part of our long-term roadmap. The debate here certainly accelerated our plans. The debate also gave us an opportunity to go to all the constituents of the debate and hear how they see Internet.org, the benefits they see from it and the concerns people have about it.

The most interesting feedback we saw was from consumers, who were positive about programmes that bring people online. When we listened to the people spearheading the net neutrality debate, the primary things we heard were around consumer choice and making sure that any developer can join. Today we have addressed those.

Some content partners have exited Internet.org in India to support net neutrality. These include travel website Cleartrip and news conglomerates NDTV and The Times of India. Are you concerned about the future of Internet.org in India?
If you look globally, Internet.org is in nine countries right now. There hasn't been anywhere else that people have exited. I am very optimistic about Internet.org globally and in India, because we are providing a fantastic service for people to come online. It's working for consumers and mobile operators and now it will also work for the developer community.

There will still be people who will say that Internet.org is a violation of the net neutrality principle, as it creates a free and a paid lane, and one such discrimination in data is allowed, operators might use it to argue for fast lanes and slow lanes, and so on.
I don’t believe that Internet.org is a violation of net neutrality. I believe that that programmes that bring more people online must co-exist with net neutrality. We agree with the principles of net neutrality – that there shouldn’t be fast lanes, throttling, etcetera.

Programmes that are specifically designed to bring more people online are good for the entire ecosystem and the entire world.

It is important to differentiate between different kinds of zero-rating services. With Internet.org, the key feature is that there is no money paid by Facebook or other content providers to the operator. The only way Internet.org works for operators is that more people come online. That’s the only business model that works. It aligns incentives. The only thing Facebook does pay for is marketing Internet.org so that people who are not online come to know about it.

What would you say to those that Internet.org isn’t about bringing more people online but only increasing the monthly active users of Facebook.
That notion is absolutely false. Internet.org has roughly 30 content partners in India. Facebook and Facebook Messenger are only two of them, listed just like the other sites. We really people that people should come online and experience the entire wealth of the internet. That would be good for the entire ecosystem, and thus also Facebook. But that’s not our primary goal here. Our primary goal is that those who are not online should also experience the benefits of the internet.

Isn’t it strange that Internet.org wants to offer free basic services but has no email?
If an email provider wants to comply with the platform guidelines that we are announcing, Internet.org would be glad to have it.

What has been the consumer reception like for Internet.org in India? How many people are using it and how many people has it helped discover the internet?

We have seen it bring more people to the internet. We have seen data that shows it is bringing more people online. Unfortunately, I can't share any specific statistics. Those are between the operator and us.

What do the global numbers look like?
Our efforts have brought 8 million people to the internet, whom we believe would not be on the internet otherwise. Internet.org today is available today in countries or regions that cover roughly 800 million people. We are saying the adoption of internet.org continues to grow. We are in nine countries and will add more to the list. We are in this for the long haul.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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The inspiring projects that are changing girls’ education in India today

New ideas to do more for girls’ education from around the country.

In 1848, when Savitribai Phule and her husband Jyotirao Phule began the first school for girls in India, it caused an uproar in Pune. In the mornings, when Savitribai would walk to school, neighbors threw garbage at her in an effort to shame her. She and her husband persevered, and the school that began with just nine girls changed the way the city viewed girls’ education, eventually making Pune the home to many firsts. In 1885, Huzurpaga the first high school for girls was founded there. And in 1916, exactly a hundred years ago, the city saw India’s first university for women - SNDT.

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While we have come a long way with wide support for girl’s education today, actual outcomes have lagged. We looked at some of the most promising schools and projects that address key issues holding girls back through fresh approaches.

Solving the problem of drop outs in cities - Prerna High School

A school near the banks of the river Gomti in Lucknow is carrying out an incredible experiment in girls’ education. Prerna Girls School is a high school for underprivileged girls, many of whom come from local slums and work as domestic help. To enable these girls to fit education within their circumstances, the school operates in the afternoons. When they arrive, each child is given a snack every day as a nutritional intervention and to increase attendance.

What makes this school’s approach unique is its radical syllabus that, besides the usual subjects, also teaches students to recognize and fight gender bias with tools like critical dialogues, drama, storytelling and music. The school also works to gently alter discriminatory mindsets among parents through such activities. The school intervenes and brings in counselling support in cases of child marriage, without getting into an adversarial relationship with the family. After schooling, Prerna provides vocational training and helps students find employment, further encouraging girls to stay in school.

Urvashi Sahni, founder of Prerna High School, says “Teachers must first understand and respect the circumstances students come from and then work actively to keep the girls in school and build their aspirations. The school must provide long-term and comprehensive support.”

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Prerna Girls School

Adapting village schools to overcome rural challenges - Shiksha Karmi Project

Teacher absenteeism is a major obstacle to education in rural areas. In 1987, the state government of Rajasthan started the Shiksha Karmi (education worker) Project to curb drop out rates and bring students back to rural schools.

The project substituted absent professional teachers with a team of two locals. The theory was that a person from the community would have a better understanding of the conditions of local children. The villagers also had a say in the appointments and the volunteers were given intensive training and were subject to periodic reviews. Since the gender of the teacher is a big factor in getting girls to attend schools, female volunteers were recruited despite difficulties.

In addition, the Shiksha Karmis also started Prehar Pathshalas where girls who could not attend regular schools, due to commitments at home, were taught at times convenient for them. According to a report from the National Resource Cell for Decentralized District Planning (NRCDDP), both these initiatives contributed towards increasing retention of girl students. 22,138 girls—around 68% of the students have been able to resume their education because of Prehar Pathshalas. Additionally, to scale the project, 14 Mahila Prashikshan Kendras (Women Training Centres) have been established to train women teachers and increase enrolment of girls in villages.

Breaking stereotypes through sports - Yuwa

Yuwa was founded by Franz Gastler, a social worker, in Jharkhand in 2009. It began as a small scholarship fund for hard-working students at a local government school. Around the same time, a 12-year-old girl asked Franz if he would coach a football team. What started as a basic kick-about has evolved into something significant. More girls began coming to the practices. They began to request daily practices and saved money to buy sports equipment. Eventually the girls in Yuwa began wanting more classes in addition to football, and the Yuwa School was founded in 2015 — a full time, low cost, English-medium all-girls school that is linked to the football program. The football teams provide the necessary social support for girls to stay in school, maintain excellent attendance, and gain the confidence to get ahead.

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Yuwa Foundation

Training for the jobs of the future - Indian Girls Code

Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) education is widely seen as critical for emerging jobs, yet stereotypes and other barriers often discourage girls from choosing these subjects. As a result, there is a widening gender gap in STEM fields. For example, an MHRD report shows that only 8.52% of the girls enrolled in higher education were pursuing bachelor degrees in engineering or technology in 2012-13. This was far below the national average of 13.27%.

Deepti Rao Suchindran, a neuroscientist and her sister, Aditi Prasad, who works in Public Policy, felt that this gap needed to be addressed. They started Indian Girls Code, inspired by initiatives like “Girls Who Code” and “Black Girls Code” in the US. It is a free hands-on coding and robotics education program that is inspiring young girls to be innovators in the field of technology by creating real-world applications. It is currently teaching 25 girls, ages 7 to 12, from the Annai Ashram orphanage in Trichy. While the initiative is small today, it has partnered with Ford Motors and Cisco to provide similar programs for girls. Going by global examples, there is great potential to scale. “Girls who Code” has grown from 20 girls in New York to 10,000 girls across America.

Girls from the orphanage learning sequential programming through a Beebot
Girls from the orphanage learning sequential programming through a Beebot

Beyond successful projects and pilots, it’s important to think of interventions for education in a structural and scalable manner. Kiran Bir Sethi’s “Design For Change”, a youth empowerment program in Ahmedabad is a great example. Five years since inception, it now reaches 200,000 students over 30 countries. Students are ingrained with the belief that they can change the world and are encouraged to identify problems in their communities and recommend actionable solutions. Their efforts have ranged from fighting untouchability in a village in Rajasthan to creating awareness among stone mine workers about the hazards of their work.

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Design For Change

The DFC program has gained worldwide recognition winning prestigious awards like the Rockefeller Foundation Innovation Award in 2012. But most importantly it has inspired thousands of girls to take an active role in changing society. Similarly, Prerna Girls School is running a program to train teachers from government schools to widen impact. And many girls from the Yuwa program are becoming leaders of positive change—over 20 Yuwa girls have spoken at TEDx and at universities in India and abroad

Making education accessible and enjoyable for girls is what will take girl child education to the next level in India. And while many organisations and programs are slowly bringing about change, there is still a long way to go. Learning about and supporting these organisations is a good way to shape the conversation regarding girls education in India. Join the conversation here.

This article was produced on behalf of Nestlé by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

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