Handing Out Akaash Tablets in School Isn’t Enough: A Broader Vision

Posted on May 10, 2012 in Education

By Abdul Wahid Khan:

To increase the broadband penetration in the country, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has formulated a plan to distribute 5 million tablet PCs (Personal Computers) to students in the next financial year 2012-13. Telecom minister Kapil Sibal said, “In the next five years, the government aims to provide free and compulsory primary education to millions of children.” Even when government has passed the Right to Education (RTE), there is no official record of out-of-school children in the country and the effectiveness of the right is not measured. There has been a growing shift towards private schooling in the past few years. According to data collected, 69.5% of the children in India are enrolled in government or public schools while close to 34% are enrolled in either private aided or unaided schools.

There have been various issues regarding the free distribution of tablet PCs in India for students. One of the most important questions is whether India is ready for this revolution? Pankaj Mohindroo who heads Indian Cellular Association says, “Electricity is needed to charge these products”. In reality, it is quite unavailable in rural areas and in many semi-urban areas. The other hurdle is uneven Internet connectivity. English is also not that widespread in rural parts of the country and hence it is like impossible for people in such areas to work on such devices.

The most important consideration in this regard is the teachers who will be actually imparting the education using the tablet PCs. First thing is that there are not even adequate number of teachers and classrooms in public schools in India. There are a lot of schools in rural areas with single teachers who sometimes are irregular in opening schools. Teachers in private, unaided schools may be somewhat more familiar with English but teachers in lot of public schools in cities, and especially in rural areas, are not at all comfortable with English language to run such a device.
Besides English language, leave internet alone, they are not exposed to such technology before. Many have not even used computer in their lives and it is very new experience for them to handle it and then teach using it.

And then there is the issue of content. Naveen Mishra, an analyst with Cyber Media Research, says “I am not sure if interactive content at the higher secondary level is available. If it is just a PDF of a textbook on the device, (then) that does not help.” This means that the content on the tablet PC should be interactive in order to create unique value for students. For teachers, it is important to learn how to teach students using interactive content. How to make students understand concepts using the device instead of chalk and board? It is basically the teaching methods with the new medium for which they need to be trained for.

If curriculum integration is not done on the national level by Education Boards, the teachers on their own have to do it with the tablet PCs content. It is expected to be done by the state or central boards but for teachers, it is important to learn to adapt to such a new curriculum. Equally important is how they will evaluate students based on the assignments submitted on cloud or electronically through this new medium? Rules and guidelines need to be set for this and should be made understood to teachers through training.

Wishtel India, a Mumbai-based tablet maker, has launched two new educational tablets named IRA and IRA Thing, priced at Rs 4,000 and Rs 5,500, respectively, in partnership with VIA Technologies of Taiwan. These tablets support 23 regional Indian languages. It can be very helpful in breaking English language barrier for rural India. As the next step, the government and education departments should now focus more on organizing workshops for teachers to adapt to teaching, learning and evaluation using this new medium.