New Delhi: Many state governments are in talks with firms such as NIIT Ltd and Teledata Informatics Ltd to forge partnerships to use information and communications technologies, or ICT, in education.

Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Punjab and Haryana are looking to the private sector to build, operate, own and transfer (BOOT) ICT infrastructure in government schools.

This would typically require installing computers with educational software, and training teachers to use these technological aids.

Educating India: A file photo of a computer class in Shree Sharada Vidyalaya school at Amruth Nagar in Bangalore. The new initiative by some state governments would require installing computers with educational software in educational institutions, and training teachers to use these technological aids. Hemant Mishra / Mint

The development comes after the ministry of human resource development, which oversees education, asked states to consider the BOOT model to utilize funds worth Rs900 crore for the fiscal year to March to set up e-learning infrastructure in schools and colleges.

The fund sharing arrangement for the scheme stipulates that the Union government would contribute 65% of the money and the states would contribute the remaining 35%. For north-eastern states, the ratio is 90:10.

“We prefer the BOOT model and ideally would want all the states to follow it for the programme," Anshu Vaish, secretary, school education and literacy, told Mint. “So far, five states have been granted permission to follow the model.’’ Vaish clarified that the states are also free to partner or launch the scheme on their own.

India’s National Mission on Education through Information and Communications Technology, which has an allocation of Rs4,612 crore to be utilized by March 2012, aims to leverage the potential of ICT. This is expected to be a major intervention in raising enrolment rates in higher education.

L. Balasubramanian, president, school learning solutions at computer education provider NIIT, said the BOOT model in ICT was mutually beneficial. “It’s very simple. We create infrastructure for them and operate it before transferring assets, while government pays us for service development every three months."

“Ten years ago, the Tamil Nadu government faced long delays in procuring hardware for its IT training programmes in schools and they, too, switched to a BOOT model,’’ Balasubramanian added.

NIIT currently has a Rs21.4 crore contract with the Rajasthan Council of Elementary Education to introduce computer-aided learning in 1,672 government primary schools in 22 districts of Rajasthan within the framework of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, India’s flagship welfare programme to put every child in school.

The company has also bagged an IT education contract for 2,005 schools from the Andhra Pradesh government, besides two other orders from the Maharashtra and Bihar governments to provide computer training in 900 schools in the next five years.

“Demystification of computer-aided learning is happening, especially in rural areas, as we get on with it," said Shabnam Sinha, chief executive officer for private-public partnerships at Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS). “We are targeting very remote areas under the scheme.’’

There are, however, some operational hurdles. “Implementation is very difficult since one is doing at the school level. In many states, it has happened that computers are lying unused. In many cases, computers set up by us in schools have been stolen, especially in states like Bihar, but we have been able to recover them through police action,’’ said Sinha, whose company is also setting up e-learning infrastructure in 156 schools in Pune, Maharashtra.

While IL&FS is in talks with some north-eastern states for ICT projects, NIIT has already started work with the Assam and Tripura governments.

Balasubramanian said the use of ICT in the north-eastern states has led to developmental gains. “The Assam government did not have the required budget, but then, they have the status of a preferred backward state. ICT training in schools there motivated the youth there, thereby reducing militancy.’’

Sinha said that the government’s ICT scheme needs to be treated more as an outcome-oriented programme instead of vendor-driven initiative. “What it requires is enhancing quality of education in schools, which can happen only when it is impacting the attitude of teachers, students and parents towards education,’’ she said.

To be sure, private firms are not rushing headlong into arrangements with state governments.

“In many cases, (the) budget for the programme was not enough. There were challenges in state government finances. So we choose our states very carefully. It requires political will... to get things going,’’ said Balasubranamium.

In a separate but related development, the Union government is also looking to partner with private firms to establish 2,500 model primary schools, a concept Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mentioned in his Independence Day speech in 2007.

The details of such a partnership are still to emerge. One such model suggests that state governments would provide land for these schools and the private players would bear the cost of building and infrastructure.

Despite the government’s keenness to encourage private sector participation in the education sector, not everyone is convinced. Private companies have complained about a lack of clarity in the structure of such partnerships with the government.

“The policy arrangement differs from state to state since they are free to do it their own way, which makes (for) large variations in implementation,’’ said a person familiar with the negotiations, who declined to be named. “In BOOT model, everything is at a very nascent stage, so we need to know it clearly still."