Will India’s Education Revolution Depend on Cheap Tablet Computers?

Indian schools are upgrading their technology to meet the demands of the 21st century education system, and according to Betwa Sharma of Smart Planet, the Indian government and schools are encouraging parents to buy tablets to help bring classrooms up to speed.

The Indian government plans to make the Aakash tablet available to 220 million students nationwide at a hugely subsidized price of just $20, starting with the nation’s college students. So far Datawind, the Indian company which is manufacturing Aakash tablet, has delivered 100,000 of the devices to the government.

According to the Elementary Education in India 2011-12 report, 48% of India’s 1.4 million schools have computers. In June 2012, the market for information and communication technologies in education in India was estimated at 285,000 crore rupees, or $50 billion. And this number is expected to grow to 570,000 crore or $100 billion by 2014.

The government believes that providing a tablet to every student will improve education in India, but not all technology experts agree with the government.

According to technology expert Prasanto K. Roy, the government should first work on online education tools, software and curriculum.

“We have jumped onto the hardware bit, which should be secondary or should run parallel to the content and teacher training,” he said, adding that “presently no studies in India indicate that the use of tablets or other multimedia devices improve education.”

Roy said the first step for the government is to make the curriculum available on e-books that can be hyper-linked to external sources.

Roy pointed out that India’s education system continues to be mostly rote based on right or wrong answers. So effectively integrating education and technology is a challenge that possibly requires some rethinking of the curriculum as well as training teachers to effectively use these devices to enhance learning.

Richard Mahapatra, a 42-year-old journalist and a father whose daughter studies at a private school in Delhi, India, wants to know how this educational tool will improve education. Recently, Mahapatra attended a parent-teacher meeting at his daughter’s private school in Delhi. During the meeting, he was offered to buy a tablet for his daughter. The school was selling HCL tablets for about 6,000 rupees, or $120.

According to Mahapatra, this is an uncomfortable situation. He did not like the idea of schools selling and promoting a private company’s tablet, and he does not know how it would benefit his daughter.

“For a father like me, it’s not a cultural change but almost like a genetic jump,” he said, recalling that he began his education with chalk and slate at a small tribal school in the state of Orissa on the eastern coast of India. “I don’t discount that we are living in a different age. But first I want to know how helpful is it as an educational tool.”