August 22, 2014

Important developments in online learning in India in 2012

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Aakash users © Datawind Inc

In my e-Learning Outlook for 2012 published on January 2 in 2012 I wrote:

Watch India

…..there are several reasons behind this prediction:

  • the Indian government’s decision to subsidize 12 million Aakash tablets at US$35 per tablet will open up online learning to a vast number of Indians (800 million) who currently have no Internet access, but who do have mobile phones
  • the Aakash deal will also put great pressure on Indian higher education institutions, who in general have been highly resistant to e-learning, to move more quickly, if they are to access additional government funding for tablets.
  • this will also stimulate India’s already burgeoning e-learning industry to produce content, programs, degrees and learner support for such students. In 2009 Researchandmarkets estimated the market size to touch $603 million by the end of calendar year 2012. The Aakash deal is likely to inflate this figure by an order of magnitude.
  • up to now, most e-learning companies in India have been marketing externally, and have focused on corporate training and informal learning, but there are signs that in 2012, the focus will be on providing e-learning products, services and programs for Indian students.
  • English is widely used in Indian post-secondary education, and the move to OERs will enable Indian institutions to move quickly into online learning with what will be perceived as quality learning materials from reputable organizations (such as MIT).

Likely barriers:

  • institutional resistance to online learning
  • costs of Internet access
  • lack of bandwidth in many rural areas
  • lack of attention paid to instructional design and learner support leading to high drop-out

Here, I want to provide a short update, as there were several interesting developments during the year. This needs to be contextualized by recognizing that India is a huge sub-continent, with a great deal of online learning development, and I did not visit the country during 2012, so this is just a tiny glimpse of what is going on.

Very low cost tablets

Khedekar, N. (2012) All you need to know about Aakash 2, tech2, 12 December, 2012

First despite a great deal of controversy, a false start, and technical criticism, Datawind Inc. did finally win the bid to supply the Indian government with 100,000 (1 lakh) Aakash 2 tablets (officially known as the Ubislate 7Ci). This was really the second round of development, as the Aakash 1 was found to be lacking on a number of functions. The Aakash 2, with its 7″ touch screen, is, according to Naina Khedekar, a big improvement. The Aakash 2 tablets are designed and developed, and the touchscreen manufactured, in Canada, the components are sourced globally, and the tablet is conceived, assembled and programmed in India.

The Indian government will make the Aakash 2 available to schools and colleges at a subsidized price of CS$20 (1,130 rupees) per tablet – yes $20! Although intended only for the school and college market, it will also retail commercially for C$78 (4,500 rupees) in India. Datawind is offering 48 hour delivery times in India.

There is a great demonstration of the Aakash 2 that can be seen here from fone arena (click on the graphic above).

Content

Mishra, A. (2012) Virtual laboratories to reach 500,000 students University World News, 1 March, 2012

It will now be up to the Indian e-learning content developers to ensure that there is sufficient high quality learning material for the tablet.

One major step towards the goal of providing high quality, free Indian-designed content is the establishment of the Indian Virtual Labs Project, funded by India’s federal government, and developed in partnership with many of the Indian Institutes of Technology. The objectives of this project are as follows:

  • To provide remote-access to Labs in various disciplines of Science and Engineering. These Virtual Labs would cater to students at the undergraduate level, post graduate level as well as to research scholars
  • To provide a complete Learning Management System around the Virtual Labs where the students can avail the various tools for learning, including additional web-resources, video-lectures, animated demonstrations and self evaluation.
  • To share costly equipment and resources, which are otherwise available to limited number of users due to constraints on time and geographical distances.

There are already over 100 detailed labs available, with lecture notes, simulations, experiments, theory and feedback, and hundreds more currently under development. This site is well worth visiting by anybody in any English-speaking country interested in teaching science or engineering online.

The government hopes to provide 500,000 students access to virtual laboratories and to thus bridge the digital divide between urban and rural teachers and learners, and empower those who have remained untouched by the digital revolution. With virtual labs, students across Indian institutions will be able to access physical laboratories hundreds of kilometres away. They will be able to visit the lab of their choice and study at any time convenient to them. Students will be able to book slots for remote-triggered labs. While theory can be prepared offline, students will conduct the experiment online.

The challenge

Nolen, S. (2012) India flush with cellphones, but few options when nature calls Globe and Mail, May 24

This article on the recent household census in India provides some interesting stats (figures refer to households, not people):

  • 67% have access to electricity
  • 63% now have a telephone connection (mainly cellphones, although no figures are given in this article)
  • 59% have access to banking services
  • 53% have access to a toilet in the home or in a shared toilet block: only 10% have a flush toilet in the home
  • 50% have television
  • 20% have radios
  • 9% have a computer (20% of urban dwellers and 5% of rural households)
  • less than 1% of households have computers and Internet access: but that’s still nearly seven million households.

However it should be remembered that 10 years ago less than 50% of Indians had any modes of communication – other than speech. While there is still a long way to go, thing are improving rapidly in India. The stats show why the Aakash 2 project is so significant as it enables wireless connectivity.

Nevertheless, lack of reliable internet access still poses a major challenge. However, the government plans to to provide high-speed internet and data transfer connectivity to 572 universities, 25,000 colleges and 2,000 polytechnics, benefiting almost 15 million college students.

Are MOOCs and OERs the answer?

There will certainly be opportunities to use open educational resources, but of course, the majority of OERs are also currently in English, a language spoken by a total of 125 million Indians (including those for whom English is a second or third language), or about 10% of the Indian population. OERs in other Indian languages such as Hindi will also be necessary.

It is hard to see how MOOCs developed from North American institutions are going to have a major impact in India. They are likely to be of value mainly to those already with a high level of education.

In the end, it will be Indian ingenuity, Indian solutions that will transform education for the majority of Indians, not imported material from other countries, as useful as that may be for a small minority.

Help!

As I said earlier, I have just touched on what is happening in India. I would really welcome comments, news and updates from the many readers I have in India (over 800 at the last count).

 

Comments

  1. If I were in India I would not try to create any online courses for HE.
    I would just connect to EDX . That is more than enough .
    Everybody speaks English in INdia . No problem .

    ONLINE must be delivered by the best schools of the world .
    There is no sense to disseminate non-valued knowledge to people .

    EDX is global, already 7 % of the students of EDX are Indians .

  2. I had an interesting discussion with a group of educators from Southeast Asia about a month ago who were interested in learning more about online education. They all frowned when I mentioned MOOCs in the United States, implying that they were not of much use to them. They said that their students are interested in obtaining higher education degrees from US institutions, not simply free online courses. I wish I had had more time to ask them about whether they are steering their students away from them, since that was their implication. Perhaps, that is one of the reasons for the high drop-out rate? Students sign up out of curiosity and realize the MOOCs are not as useful to them as they thought they might be since they won’t earn a degree from some of these well-known institutions for free. Time will tell.

  3. With limited internet access it surprises me that India would consider virtual labs for science instead of hands-on wet lab kits which can easily align to textbook content, provide the students with real world scenarios and ship world-wide. Understanding price would always be an issue it must be weighed against the quality of the education received.

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  1. [...] at least in North America, they are still too expensive. They need, like the Aakash 2 in India, to come down in price below $100. More significantly in Canada, roaming costs are still too high, [...]

  2. […] estos dispositivos son aún demasiado caros, al menos en Norteamérica. Deben –como el Aakash 2 en India–, bajar los precios por debajo de los $100 dólares. Esto es más notable en Canadá, donde el […]

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