Aakash is a hindi word meaning “sky or “ether”. It is a word that will become better known. Now, it is the brand name for an Android-based tablet computer produced by the British company Datawind and manufactured by the India based company Quad.
Kalra, who heads a team at the Rajasthan Indian Institute of Technology sums up the potential. “Inside ten years we expect that everyone will have one. There will be children learning, farmers checking prices, pregnant women getting medical assistance – all through the Aakash.”
The Aakash is a low-cost tablet computer with a 7 inch touch screen running on an Android 2.2 operating system. The device was developed as part of the country’s aim to link 25,000 colleges and 400 universities in an e-learning programme. The target price is $50 and, potentially, represents empowerment on a global scale – though this could drop to $35 with volume.
India, like other areas of the Majority world, has a high percentage earning no more than £2 per day. The original development goal for Aakash was to build a functioning computer that a daily wage labourer could buy if s/he saved one day’s earnings a month. This gave a price point of £35 or $50.
The majority of global under 25 year olds are Indian and this demographic dividend has long been highlighted as a huge resource for India’s ambitious growth targets. However, there are serious constraints: literacy in some States is low. Around a quarter of Indians are unable to read or write and at least another quarter are very limited – which is not helped by a chronic shortage of teachers – many of whom fail to turn up – learning facilities and books. This is a very poor platform for skills initiatives to make an impact.
The Aakash could be the tool to bridge the accessibility gap for remote rural communities – an icon based version can even work with illiterate communities. The government hopes to use it to overcome chronic shortages in educational resources through distant learning packages. The idea is superb and the price point well positioned. Nonetheless, many villages do not have constant power and, there will be a need to keep the equipment simple – because of a total lack of maintenance.
The CII (Confederation of Indian Industries) produced a report that highlighted the need to train 450 million people by 2022 in order to maintain growth. It was highlighted that the current skills training capacity is 3.2 million courses but this will have to grow to 46 million to meet the target. One thing is for sure, using classrooms and actual equipment will not suffice. Trucks and cranes and construction equipment is all in use – there is no spare capacity and, there is a huge shortage of classrooms, teachers and trainers. As Einstein once said, “to continue doing the same thing but expecting a different result – is a sign of madness.”
Wider than India, the Aakash raises a number of challenges to Educational and Training best practice in mature markets. The developed world continues to see learning through the prism of a classroom and, though technologies are being used, the full potential of learning technologies has yet to be realised. In particular, the remote learning possibilities that a tablet like the Aakash offers needs to be a catalyst for the transformation of learning methods worldwide. Simulation, simulators and tablets can all be used to narrow the skills gap and transform livelihoods.