Wednesday, 5 December 2012

IIT-Bombay to power up Aakash-2 tablets for Indian classrooms

 Amid the unending debate over whether Aakash-2 was made in China, Canada or India, the tablet's first consignment sent to the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay is ready to be powered with stacks of applications for Indian classrooms. The government has bought the first batch of 10,000 shoe-size Aakash-2 tablets, each costing $40 (2,200). 

Since 2000, the government has been trying to change the stationery in the country's classrooms. It started with the $10 (550)computing device launched in Tirupati in 2009. Then came the $35 (1,925.20) Aakash-1 device that was touted to be India's iPad killer (Aakash was originally called Sakshaat— 'right in front of you') or it's bigger globally-created brother, launched at the UN yesterday. 

As a part of that exercise to "revolutionize education", A-2 will not be sold in the market. Instead, close to 20,000 engineering students will be given A-2 to build a fuller machine for the higher versions of Aakash. Head of Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology at IIT-Bombay, Deepak Phatak, is piloting this project with 11,000 teachers and 20,000 students. 

Meanwhile, IIT-Madras's professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala, who is developing Aakash-3, says the upcoming gadget will be remarkably different. For one, it will have multiple manufacturers with a larger distribution system as the order will be a lot bigger. "There will be larger accountability, and repair workshops in various parts of the country so that a student does not have to post it back to the manufacturer. We'll develop a product that is more mature, rugged and reliable." He adds that when A-3 is out "in a few months", an eco system of applications will be ready, new teaching methods and learning methodologies would have been developed and deals inked with content developers. 

Phatak, whose dream is "to see a resurgent India catching up with the world using IT", is in charge after IIT-Jodhpur director Prem Kumar Kalra was pulled off it. "Thousands of apps will be developed on Aakash-2. I wish to clarify that Aakash-2 is a pilot we undertook to develop apps; the government has paid for them in toto." The applications and the content, which promise to alter the topography of education in India, will be 100 % Indian."It's the human contribution that a lot of people are going to make that'll lead to change in education." Teaching methods in schools, medical schools, will change. 

Made in India, China or Canada? 

While parts of Aakash came from China and Canada, as confessed by Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli, faculty members from engineering colleges say that India does not make components for tablets and most complex machines are of global make. 

Former director of IIT-Delhi PV Indiresan says, "We don't make any parts in India and almost all of it comes from elsewhere." He feels that if the digital divide is bridged, most problems set in India's education system will have an answer. "A computing device is going to be an important tool."C Amarnath, who heads SINE, the Innova8tion, Entrepreneurship and Incubation Centre at IIT-Bombay, points out that Ganesha idols come from China today too. "If you bring in sentiments into business, it won't work. 

Today, even Japan sources a lot from China." Similar sentiments are echoed by IIT-B director Devang Khakhar, who says that the crux of the matter was that the tablet was relevant to engineering students. "A lot of parts of the tablet have come from across the globe and assembled here. That is the case with most products today." 

Packed with many more features 

Aakash-2 is packed with many more features than its previous edition. For one, a click allows a teacher to conduct an instant quiz in the class. A professor can post a question and students need to answer the same on their tablet. 

The data is collated within seconds and it allows the teacher to find out who got it right and who did not follow what was taught.

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