Today I'm in Pune, my favorite city in India. I'm speaking at GNUnify 2006, which is a very sweet small conference held at Symbiosis Institute of Computer Studies and Research.
What a great experience! This was the 4th year of this 2-day conference organized entirely by a student committee. Students dressed in very smart formal suits and saris were our hosts and facilitators. Last night there was a lovely reception where we were treated to a cultural program of dancing and then a dinner, and I was privileged to chat with Dr. S. B. Mujumdar, Cancellor and Founder of Symbiosis. His idea 30 years ago was to create an international university embracing a wholistic curriculum with lots of practical experience as well as personal discipline through mandatory yoga and phys ed classes together with the usual theoretical and technical training that comprises traditional education. Today Symbiosis is 31 academic institutions spread around Pune and a small new campus in Dubai, UAE. The student community is 35,000 Indian and International students (from 42 countries) on eight campuses, and another 80,000 students participating in Distance Learning. Last year Dr. Mujumder was awarded the Padmashri designation, which is sort of the Indian equivalent of being knighted.
This academic year Symbiosis has implemented WiFi pervasively in all classrooms and common areas (just like MIT ! Many of the Symbiosis students have purchased low-cost laptops (thanks to the local HP office) to take advantage of this new reality...which is potentially GREAT for their FOSS participation. The biggest barrier to FOSS participation I encounter in most developing countries is lack of access to the Internet and computers during leisure hours. I really have to applaud Symbiosis and HP for taking a lead on this...
What I'm wondering now is when and whether other companies are going to offer support and encouragement to this brave experiment in education that is Symbiosis.