The $35 Aakash Tablet Will Fail Education Just Like the $100 OLPC Laptop Did


datawind aakash difference from olpc
Recently, the CEO of Datawind presented his case to the World Bank on why the Aakash tablet computer will revolutionize education in India. During his talk, he presented this slide as justification that his tablet was not the XO and that Datawind would be more successful in reaching a 5 million units sold milestone than OLPC.
While I agree that Suneet Singh Tuli’s business plan of selling tablets directly to consumers based on clear market advantages is more sound than Nicholas Negroponte’s idea of selling millions of laptop to governments based on a handshake with presidents, I do not see a better education plan. In fact, I see none.
What I do see is Datawind and OLPC focusing on hardware sales. OLPC started the netbook revolution – cheap laptops for everyone, and Datawind is starting a “netlet” revolution – cheap tablets for everyone. Congratulations to both. But without a serious focus on educational software and content, and the integration of both into the national curriculum and into teachers’ daily instruction, the Aakash will have the same issue as the OLPC:
It will be a cool gadget that pushes boundaries in computing, and leaves education as moribund as before.


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7 Comments on “The $35 Aakash Tablet Will Fail Education Just Like the $100 OLPC Laptop Did

  1. I agree. That’s the problem with any purely-technical solution proposed for human issues. Making cheap tablets won’t solve education challenges any more than building pretty websites will solve aid challenges. People have to be at the centre of every solution, not the periphery.

  2. Don’t really like sweeping statements 🙂
    Depends what you’re measuring. In the best of all possible worlds, the outcomes of successful ICT integration in schools are improved learning outcomes PLUS improved 21st century skills (perhaps a somewhat nebulous concept). Maybe the Aakash and the XO don’t directly contribute significantly to improved learning outcomes (due to all the reasons you state), but I’m sure they will contribute significantly to the latter (which are skills not really measured in schools), but which are necessities in the modern world and workplace!

  3. Merryl,
    I agree that more tablets in more children’s hands will have more children with ICT skills. But let us not confuse that with more, higher educated learners.
    Children (and adults) can quickly learn how to operate tools, but its the higher-order cognitive skills that schools should focus on. How does spending scarce money on tablets improve this?

  4. I think the tragedy is that many schools don’t really focus on the higher order skills anyway…
    At least with connected devices (whatever they may be), there is more chance that children can be exposed to those elsewhere. At least their world view can be expanded and they can be exposed to more viewpoints than in their (often) very narrow and defined worlds. I don’t think any of the questions or answers are simple when it comes to the benefits of integrating ICTs into education, because I don’t think we’re really measuring the impact beyond ICT skills or educational outcomes.
    I don’t think tablets are silver bullets, but think it’s a step forward from the computer lab model at least – still endemic in schools here in South Africa. Even more of a huge waste of money and resources, yet something to which even the poorest schools aspire. There’s a hunger for technology, but no clear understanding of how this will help.
    Used appropriately, mobile devices can be extremely useful in the classroom – the challenge is in how to use them, a “soft” issue that technology push doesn’t solve. There needs to be an integrated approach of humanware, software, hardware and process (or pedagogy). We’re working towards that.

  5. Typically I think you’re a little too pessimistic regarding this sort of thing but I think it’s really a shame that no one is engaging with what I think is your best point namely that it’s the SOFTWARE that makes for better education. That’s why I’m most excited about things like Conrad Wolfram’s now if you could get projects like these to coordinate with xo or this tablet then we’re really talking about something useful but until then I think you’re right that this isn’t going to make a substantial different.
    also I hate your captcha

  6. Wayan,
    I grow tired of your relentness naysaying, as though there were nobody in the world outside of One Laptop Per Child working on Sugar software, Open Education Resources, teacher training materials and curricula, and the rest of what is needed for providing a genuine education to every child, and as though none of the children will learn what to provide to their children. Many of us are doing the work, and it will happen, no matter what you fail to see from your armchair.
    Do you really think that it is better to curse the darkness than to teach children how to make candles?

  7. Some people just do not get it!
    Aakash is the new name of Saakshat, a Govt of India’s scheme, a budgeting scheme, to provide cheap laptops, now tablets, to college students.
    The scheme started 5 years ago in response to OLPC’s plan for $100 laptops and promised to buy laptops if they were available for $10.
    Then it tried making some contraptions with the help of local students and produced a 5×10 inches pend drive as a “laptop”.
    That shame led to some rework and they felt they could have a laptop for $35 as that was the total cost of its parts if bought at a scale.
    No manufacturer came forward. They tried their best. The Minister courted everyone he knew. No luck.
    They tried tendering three times and while there were some willing to buy $50 tablet from China and after paying all duties etc sell it for $60, the minister was adamant at $35.
    A compromise was found- dilute the specs, buy from China for $45 and sell to India for $49.98, just below $50 to keep the Minister’s honour and subsidise by whatever and give to the students for $35.
    So the new tablet could not be called Sakshaat and had to be given a new name at 20% of the original specs.
    But because it was bought SKD and stamped made in India, there were some intellectual challenges.
    Datawind was an unknown Canadian company with less than acceptable record of anything but was willing to do all that. Bend over backwards to please the minister. It wanted publicity to raise money in the market. But did not know how to create any product and was willing to do anything the Govt wanted.
    But the product was a dud. It was bought off the shelf as SKD. There was nothing Indian about it. There was NO design or engineering about it. IIT Rajasthan had no design and engineering capability. They were just doing user test.
    To call that Indian as good as calling a Sony sold in India as Indian or calling anything made in China or Taiwan and bought by an Indian as an Indian product.
    Its like saying “Consumed in India” is the new definition of manufactured in India.
    Just as it is to call a trader an innovator.
    If Suneet Tuli made the product, then Pepsi is made by 7/11 stores in America. But it requires a little brain to understand the crooked mind of India’s leadership.
    Those who cannot innovate, use crooked means. India has no record of innovation in the past 5 or 6 decades. But it sits on top of corrupt states where every single politician is worth $20 million to $1000 million, every single civil servant who gets $1000 pm as salary has net assets in excess of a few million dollars. Where things are done for convenience, pleasing the boss and showing off.
    The Aakash tablet scheme of which the Datawind stuff has finally gone with the wind is one more such of the million shenanigans anyone has chanced upon.
    Pity the western mind that is not ready to even understand the devious mind that India’s politicians have in small matters. Its the bug picture where they have a problem.
    OLPC in India has been embraced with open arms by EDUCATORS but not the policy idiots because they have NOT BEEN BRIBED yet. Just bribe India’s politicians and everyone will start learning!