Education rides from laptops to tablets

Written by Diksha Dutta | Diksha Dutta | Updated: Aug 20 2012, 09:08am hrs
The education divide in India can only get wider it seems. While the backward cities and rural areas are still struggling with the adoption of one laptop per child (OLPC) and the central government has not been able to push these orders modern child of the metropolitan cities is trying his hand on tablets. But even in urban areas, tablets still have a long way to go before they substitute laptops. The challenge is content and softwares like learning management system (LMS) that support the education system.

Vendors are definitely coming up with newer education tablets, even though Aakash did not take off as it had promised. After all, there is great potential in this space: data by Cybermedia Research shows that the total enrollment in school education is 391 million students. Of this, 63% (245 million) users are the ones which are potential users of education tablets. The rest are in primary education. The main players in the education tablet space are HCL Infosystems, MicroMax, Aakash and other upcoming vendors like EAFT.

These players are facing challenges in convincing schools to use tablets and are also finding different ways to overcome this. Anand Ekambaram, senior vice president, HCL Infosystems and head ,HCL Learning says, Though there are some schools which want all their students to use tablets, but such cases are still less. Our tablets are also available in the library and bookshops of schools and are on sale there. The content that we offer is useful to teachers and students both. He adds that the user of an education tablet either uses the content to teach or to learn. We also make our sales through online retail and it is picking up too. Our content comprises NCERT syllabus, question papers etc, he says. HCL Infosystems launched MyEduTab five months back. Though HCLs focus is private schools, but there are well known schools in small cities also who are taking the initiative to use these tablets.

Faisal Kasoowa, lead analyst, telecom practice at Cybermedia Research says, Only content can make a tablet suitable for education. A tablet needs to be accompanied by LMS. Else one would use even iPads or other Samsung tablets for the education sector. Customisation is very important in this space and that is what vendors are focusing on .

Can tablets substitute laptops

Its hard to forget the concept of OLPC started by Satish Jha in 2007. Still hurdles exists in this model though the orders made by schools are high, but adoption is lesser. On one hand orders reveal big numbers like 150,000 in Kerala, 70,000 in Manipur, 4334 schools numbering over 320,000 in Himachal. But the deployment has happened of 1000 laptops in Manipur Department of Education and 1700 at government schools, private schools, NGO run schools in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Says Kasoowa from Cybermedia Research, Earlier the idea was to give away laptops , but now tablets are a cheaper proposition. The laptop offered by OLPC is $230 when bought in quantities of 10,000 with one years warranty and higher by another $20 for lower quantities up to 1000 pieces plus countervailing duties + shipping. Rs 15,000 including warranty for a year for order size of 10,000 and above.On the other hand, a tablet would cost average Rs 11,000 for a school.

Satish Jha, founder, OLPC justifies, Tablets are still a limited purpose contraption evolving as a mobile data consumption device while laptops are a general purpose computer that address all questions computers may be used for. Tablets like iPad make consumption of information far easier and even fun but still do not meet all computational or learning needs. They are meant for urban environment, as a second device, too fragile for first time learners who don't have carpetted floors.

He agrees that there is a degree of competition between the two as those using laptops may switch over to tablets in the short run. But this does not effect Jha's mission, as his focus is rural areas. HCLs Ekambaram too mentions, We are providing a keyboard with our tablets so that it is easier to use like a laptop perhaps. Thus, as the shift from laptops to tablets happens, vendors will keep coming up with innovative ways of deployment.