Posted by: lrrp | June 20, 2007

Sri Lanka’s youth programmers battle for Microsoft recognition

June 19, 2007 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s young software developers lack resources but not dedication or talent, says former winners of a students technology competition promoted by the software giant, Microsoft.

The Imagine Cup encourages young people to apply their imagination, passion and creativity to develop technological solutions to real world issues, say its organizers.

This year a team from the University of Moratuwa was chosen as the winner from six finalists this year.

The team developed a system to monitor and record a child’s progress, health and performance.

A team from the University of Moratuwa also won last year in the Sri Lanka round with a project titled ‘Panchayudha’ which was designed to organize clinic-related activities of expectant women and mothers with infants.

‘Panchayudha’ is a gold charm worn by infants around their neck.

“If an international organisation is ready give us help on improving our resources, Sri Lankans will do much better than any European or East Asian country,” Chathurika Sandarenu from the Faculty of Information Technology at the University of Moratuwa said.

“The only problem is the lack of resources and access. It is not the knowledge or lack of dedication.”

Resource Constraints

In countries like the United States, developers can tap into venture capital funding who make huge lose large volumes of money as many projects inevitably fail, but also make profits in the end from the few that give exponential profits.

But in Sri Lanka financial markets are not developed due to decades of restrictions and government control and a risk-averse culture.

The country also lacks basic infrastructure for widespread use of computers.

According to Sri Lanka’s ministry of education, only 76 percent of schools and temple based schools have electricity, 26.2 percent have telecommunication facilities and less than ten percent have internet facilities.

Internet penetration in the island is lower than one percent. Most internet connectivity is concentrated in the western province and other major towns.

Out of the one million personal computers, only 15 percent have internet connections and only three percent have broadband connections.

To overcome low internet penetration among rural youth, the government’s ICT body ICTA has launched ‘Nanasalas’ or IT kiosks all over the country especially in rural areas.

Helping Hand

Last year Microsoft helped teachers of rural schools to buy computers at concessionary rates to raise awareness among the academic staff since education ministry surveys showed that only a third of the teachers out of 200,000 are computer literate.

Imagine Cup is another Microsoft initiative to recognise skilled students and showcase them to the IT and software companies world wide.

“Last year’s winning three teams immediately got jobs so that kind of opportunity is there and they can continue their applications,” Wellington Perera of Microsoft told LBO.

“These students are getting recognition. The IT companies get to know who the skilled persons are,”

Six teamed qualified as finalists in the local round of which three teams were from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka’s top engineering institution.

The team from private education institute, Informatics in Colombo presented an internet encyclopaedia which can be updated by users through mobile devices.

It also contained features to pin point a user’s position in any part of the island. Other projects included distant learning systems and child care projects.

Perera says the six finalists were chosen out of 265 contestants from all parts of the island.

“I visited about eight universities and institutes sending the message to Peradeniya, Ruhuna and several rural universities. There were about 50 registrations from those areas also,” Perera says.

“I think that is a good start for us and next year I am going to do more awareness raising in rural universities about imagine cup.”

Begun in 2003, the Imagine Cup finals have travelled from Spain, to Brazil, Japan and to India. In 2006-2007 will be held in Seoul, Korea.

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