Kashmir techies create apps to bypass gradual web velocity | India

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Mubeen Masudi and Imbesat Ahmad, who run an academy that prepares students for highly competitive entrance exams for engineering schools, found it difficult to provide education in August after India’s prolonged internet shutdown after the Muslim-majority region was revoked its special status.

Although the communications blackout was lifted earlier this year, the 12 million-strong region will continue to be deprived of high-speed internet, which affects more than a million students.

The duo, who graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), have developed two apps to bypass the unbearably slow internet in the Himalayan region.

The Hindu nationalist government of India has continued the ban on 4G high-speed internet on all cellular networks “for security reasons”, which reached its 16th month this month.

While students in other parts of India used Zoom and other internet-controlled applications to continue their education, children in Kashmir are faced with low-bandwidth internet, which has meant frequent audio and video buffering issues and consistent call dropouts with applications like Zoom and Google Meet.

The Wise App and Filo apps were welcomed by the Indian Union Ministry of Education for wide use in all schools [Rifat Fareed/Al Jazeera]28-year-old Ahmad, who is originally from the eastern state of Bihar, explains the problems he faced while teaching in Kashmir: “I remember drawing a figure in physics in one of my classes where I had to show a video. I drew steps and explained. While I was explaining step 3 from my side, the figure on page 2 was the student. “

“Half of the students didn’t understand and the other half complained about buffering. The morale of the students drops drastically in such a situation, ”says Ahmad, adding that the struggle has made it clear to them that they need help to find a solution.

Ahmad created the Filo App – an application that students can use to ask educators questions. And the app, which has been downloaded 11,000 times, works on low-speed internet.

Frequent internet shutdowns

Masudi founded Wise App – a live classroom application that focuses on teachers. In contrast to Zoom and Google Meets, which are widely used around the world, the Wise app was “born out of problems with the Internet in Kashmir”, according to Masudi.

The 31-year-old says the app was designed to run courses, share resources, hold discussions and register participation on a single platform without sharing the hurdle, IDs and links.

“The application sends a notification to the students as soon as the teacher logs into the app,” said Masudi, whose application was also welcomed by the Indian Ministry of Education for wide use in the country and currently has 200,000 users.

“We designed the app to work on the slow internet. Around 30,000 users are based in Kashmir, ”he said.

The residents of Kashmir, a controversial Himalayan valley divided between and fought over by India and Pakistan, are exposed to frequent internet shutdowns.

In an annual report by the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), the local human rights group said: “In 2019, 55 internet blockades were recorded.”

GN War, director of the Association of Private Schools in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera, “The slow internet has put students in Kashmiri in a disadvantageous position.”

“We are unable to provide effective online learning and teaching services. Most online education apps are based on 4G. The teachers and students in such a situation are often frustrated, “War said.

After the lifting of the special status of Kashmir, the students in the region must now compete with students from all over India. In the past, educational institutions in the region were reserved for local students only.

However, Kashmiri students are at a disadvantage due to frequent school closings, snapping and the slow internet, War said.

The Hindu nationalist government of India has continued to ban 4G high-speed internet on all cellular networks “for security reasons”. [Rifat Fareed/Al Jazeera]”You have to compete with everyone, but you don’t get the opportunity everyone else has,” he added.

The internet shutdown has affected every aspect of Kashmiri life, including education, business and health care, and for Masudi “online courses have been very chaotic”.

“In contrast to other times, the problems were only in Kashmir, we were isolated from them. The coronavirus pandemic is a global problem, “he said referring to the global lockdown.

“We also found that we cannot reach every single student in Kashmir. So we decided to take a two-pronged approach: we had to empower teachers and students, especially in Kashmir, where internet bandwidth is very low, ”he said.

“The idea behind the Wise app was to create an application where teachers could do everything in one place,” he said. “This makes online lessons easy. As it is a technology that is not defined by borders, it is used all over the world, including all of India, but it was born out of our own problems. “

Student privacy

According to Ahmad, the Filo app has made it easier for students to reach teachers by reducing working days in schools to 20-30 days.

“This app enables students to connect online with a specialist teacher to ask questions and suggestions. The students’ cameras remain off to ensure their privacy, ”he said.

19-year-old Zahid Ul Haq, who lives in Donipawa village in the southern Anantnag district, is one of the youngest beneficiaries of the Filo app.

“Internet shutdowns and slower speeds are the biggest obstacles between students in and outside Kashmir. That is holding us back, ”Haq, who is preparing for a technical entrance exam, told Al Jazeera.

“I got to know the app when I was in the final phase of my preparation. I used to call teachers to ask questions, once, twice, three times to answer them, but there was a time when they got angry. The app helped me here, ”he said.

Dr. Umar Dar, an assistant professor of botany in the Shopian neighborhood of southern Kashmir, where internet shuts down frequently, told Al Jazeera that a notification from the education department prompted them to use the Wise app.

“I’ve been using the application for 26 days and it’s better in our internet conditions because there is a speed limit,” he said.

“Best of all, it tells you how long a student has been in class. It clearly shows the presence. 2g is barely supported in the Zoom app, and the class is automatically disconnected after 40 minutes. However, you can extend the time limit here. “

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