It has been a couple of months since Kapil Sibal announced the $35 Indian tablet Aakash which the government will make available for 10-12 million children by the end of 2012. This indeed is a bold dream which can leapfrog the internet penetration in India. It will put technology in hands of children who will drive the next generation. Hopefully, we will have citizens who are not in awe of technology but understand the its capability and how they can leverage it.
The demo device seems to have got good reviews from leading technology site:
While we applaud the government in making such a bold move, some doubts remain.
1. The device completely depends on the software library that exists for it. What progress has been made on that front ? For example, can all NCERT and state board books not be pre-loaded on these devices? After all the government owns the Copyright to them.
2. The power of these tablets really lies with the internet. The device has WiFi and GPRS capability. How will internet connectivity work in government schools in rural areas? If the Telcos do not provide connectivity for free, will the government hand out massive contracts to Telcos to subsidize the connections. Scope for scams yet again.
3. Meanwhile the Tamil Nadu government has been able to procure laptops from Lenevo for around $200. A laptop is still much more powerful than these tablets and probably more rugged. Maybe the central government could follow a similar scheme and make these available throughout India.
4. With the device available, how can private publishers make their books available? What kind of education software would be available on these devices?
In our opinion, the government's job should be to setting up direction and letting private players implement a scheme. It has done a good job by setting Android as the OS and tablet form-factor. Now it should let private entrepreneurs innovate on that further.