A tablet for all

Written by Kirtika Suneja | Updated: Jan 22 2012, 04:24am hrs
The govts impatience with the much-touted Aakash and its quest for yet another product when many others have failed in the past due to lack of a proper ecosystem makes one wonder if there is any long-term plan in place for the use of technology in the education sector.

FE examines the issue

The governments plan of reducing the digital divide of the country by launching low-cost tablet Aakash is already in troubled waters, with critics not sure of the scheme going ahead. The scheme is one of the many attempts by the government to create low-cost computing products for India, which have either failed or have not even seen the light of the day.

Many feel what the government has failed to realise is that merely providing technological tools like tablets, even if they are low-cost, is not a solution for progress. Its just one piece of a jigsaw that needs other components like Internet access, continuous power supply and adequate and prescribed content to make a complete picture. And, in a country with a mere 100 million Internet users in a population of 1,210 million, to examine just one aspect, this picture is far from complete.

As Shobha Mishra Ghosh, director, Ficci's education committee, points out: "Aakash and such schemes are one step forward, but gaps in the areas of power supply and Internet access need to be plugged, though there are some plans around content creation and converting it into different languages.

Rukmini Banerji, who works with NGO Pratham and ASER, which released its education report for 2011 last week, takes the argument to another level. She says in the process of launching technology like Aakash in the education stream, the assumption is that learners are ready to learn and the content and knowledge is out there, ready to be absorbed (see accompanying article).

The government, under its National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology, expects to connect 416 universities and 20,000 colleges. About 80% of the universities and colleges have already been connected. There is a provision for providing 50% subsidy to colleges and universities for procuring computing devices like Aakash.

"The colleges and universities could then issue these devices to financially weak students from the library on the pattern of the book bank scheme. Thus, individual subsidy to poor students for buying Aakash tablets may not be needed. Aakash will help in eliminating digital illiteracy, claims a senior HRD ministry official.

However, last Monday, the government roped in more firms to develop the tablet, even as the current developer Datawind is upgrading the first version of Aakash.

Though HRD minister Kapil Sibal refused to share the point of contention with Datawind on the current tablet, he said: We need to resolve issues and not highlight them. Following the controversy, the ministry is now seeking students' feedback to redesign the product. "We have already said we will better the device as and when we get appropriate feedback. More than 500 students have the tablets and the improvements are being looked into, the ministry official added.

Meanwhile, in the already over-crowded market of gizmos, manufacturers are now targeting niche markets, of which the student community is the most lucrative.

Magnum

Price- R7,250-49,999, available with 12-month EMIs

company: LACS

Launched: August 2011

Focus: Currently focusing on creating an India supply chain, with focus on north India. At least 5-6 more models to be launched with varying features and sizes

LACS is lowering the barrier to capital expense in the form of EMIs and low cost of tablet purchases. Universities and institutions can now begin offering volumes at lower entry costs. Subsequently, LACS will partner with education solutions providers to create bundled offerings.

"With LACS, we are offering awareness, accessibility, affordability and availability to our customers. There are varied features at various price points. Factors like warranty and servicing have been considered while designing the product, says Sharat Satyanarayana, co-founder, LACS.

Unlike others, the tablets in the Magnum range come with access points for USB and RJ45 ports, wide range of screen sizes and features to suit different feature preferences and price points.

With more than 6,500 units of the tab already sold, mostly in smaller towns of northern parts of the country, the company is now looking at partnering content publishers to bundle it with the device. This will attract students as the content would be converted to audio-visual format and then bundled on to the device.

"We are creating a supply chain and plan to set up 10,000 experience zones where customers can experience the products and make it easier for them to use it, adds Satyanarayana. On the competition in the sector, he says the market is still at a nascent stage,

with several players vying for

customer attention.

Classpad

Price: R7,500- 14,000

Company: Classteacher Learning systems

Launched: January 2012

Focus: Personalised teaching

Termed a new generation tablet for personalised and interactive teaching and learning, Classpad, an offering from Classteacher Learning Solutions, facilitates personalised and interactive learning in the classroom and makes education accessible to every student according to his/ her individual intelligence level and talent.

The tablet is the brainchild of Rohit Pande and Sameer Buti, both passouts from IIT-Delhi, who established Classteacher Learning Systems in 2000.

"Using the Classpad, teachers can effortlessly transfer class work to the students tablet, share their own content instantly and conduct hassle-free tests/assessments. Students can also give undivided attention to class lessons, attempt assessments and get immediate results to further enhance their learning, says Rohit Pande, CEO, Classteacher Learning Systems.

Using the tablet, students can download 7,000 education applications on the cloud. Classpad has a touch screen with a seven-hour battery life, 1.3 Ghz processing speed and a built-in memory of 4 GB expandable up to 32 GB.

"Equipped with artificial intelligence, Classpad can help to categorise students as fast learners, average learners and slow learners. Classpad can assist in reducing the monotony of repetitive sessions in the classroom. Teachers can now complete their syllabus within schedule and get considerable time to focus on slow learners, he adds.

The Classpad is available in two models: Trolley model for multiple student usage and One Tablet per Child (OTPC) model. It caters to the educational needs of students from classes III-XII.

It offers three learning models: 'In-class, using which teachers can effortlessly transfer class work, tests and home assignments to the students tablet; In-school, for out-of-class learning; and, In-home, for parents to monitor childrens school and homework.

iProf

Price: R6,990

Company: iProf

Launched: March 2010

Focus: Accessibility and affordability

iProf tablets offer test preparatory content for several competitive exams in India, like engineering, medical, GMAT, CAT. The company plans to add many more programmes on its platform this year.

"One can experience surfing the iProf content tablets in retail format through iStudyzones, or simply visit our website and buy the package, which is delivered to your doorstep almost anywhere in the country. iProf also offers a cash-on-delivery option, says Sanjay Purohit, CEO, iProf.

iProf content rides on most android powered tablets, thereby giving an open choice to the customer to either pick an iProf tablet or get their own tablet and load the iProf application and content.

iProf sees the tablet revolution as a great opportunity for the student community as it enables self-study much more productively.

We have empowered our student population to overcome their basic challenges like non-availability of good faculty in their residential vicinity. Thats where they could get iProf's content, which is created by renowned professors and authors, adds Purohit.

The company says that the USP of the products is its affordability, besides the fact that it offers the same bouquet of features for a much lesser cost than other tablets.

Aakash

Price: R1,100 (after govt subsidy)

Launched: October 2011

Company: Datawind

Focus: Based on current demand, Datawind expects to sell five million tablets within a year and an upgrade every six months

Aakash, bought under the HRD ministry's National Mission on Eduction through Information and Communication Technology (NME-ICT) project, is available to students for R1,100 after government subsidy.

The world's cheapest tablet, it has been conceived to provide students a device that could be used as an ebook reader to access online streaming course material and web-based research.

In fact, recently Datawind announced a contest for students, Aap ki App, wherein their best applications would be embedded in the Ubislate (Aakash tablet) and the top five application winners will be awarded R1 lakh.

We have received demands from countries like Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Brazil and many others, mainly from educational institutions. In India, the commercial product, that is the second generation of Aakash, called Ubislate 7+ is currently being booked online and will be available across the country, says Suneet Singh Tuli, CEO of Datawind.

Further, the government plans to take Aakash global, besides making it available to school and college students here.

It offers high quality web, social networking, instant messaging, multimedia, games and hundreds of thousands of applications, a durable and affordable mobile device. Instant messaging and social networking are delivered through the Nimbuzz application.

Tuli calls Aakash as affordability at its best as the low-cost, seven-inch tablet weighing just 350 gm runs on a 700 Mhz processor (improved version) and to improve performance there is an HD video co-processor and graphic accelerator, and 256 MB of RAM. Connectivity options include built-in support and the ability to connect a data card. There are two USB ports, and 2GB of built-in memory. It comes with a 2 GB microSD slot.

However, already complaints regarding the technical aspects of the device, including poor battery, slow processor speed and the overall build, are pouring in. Probably the biggest challenge for Aakash would be be to keep up with the times, which many other devices like it earlier, for instance the Simputer, failed to do.