ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Digital Divide and the Aakash Tablet

Technology Intervention in Education

The effectiveness of the Aakash tablet project—positioned by the Indian government as a device to “bridge the digital divide” and enable students from disadvantaged social segments to access internet-based educational resources—is examined by surveying different categories of users to find out how the tablet was used and how effective it was as a technology-based learning enabler. The hardware was reported to be unreliable and had a short life, the device was distributed without any underlying rationale, and there was hardly any substantive content development.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the help of numerous colleagues who gave useful suggestions to improve the draft. They are also thankful to all who helped them in Marathi to English translations. The authors would like to especially thank Supreet Saini of IIT Bombay for very useful inputs. This study was carried out under the auspices of the Technology Development Supervised Learning course offered by the Centre for Technology Alternatives in Rural Areas, IIT Bombay.

The idea of providing computer hardware, such as tablets and laptops, to “disadvantaged” children in schools and colleges (free or subsidised) continues to fascinate policymakers. The ostensible purpose in distributing these devices to children on the wrong side of the digital divide has been to aid their quest for education by enabling access to internet-based resources as well as providing a cheap computing machine. The origin of such schemes lies in the one laptop per child (OLPC) initiative, proposed by MIT Media Labs founder Nicholas Negroponte in 2005 (Trucano 2013). The objective here was to make and distribute a sub-$100 “laptop-type” device to children.

Closer home, initiatives like the Aakash tablet project in India, which seems to have been closed in 2015 (Phatak et al 2015; PTI 2015), and then the plethora of such distribution schemes to “meritorious” students from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes (SCs, STs and OBCs) by various state governments in India (Government of Gujarat 2018; Lavania 2017; Pioneer 2018; Government of Odisha 2018; Times News Network 2018) bear testimony to the popularity of this idea as a policy tool to improve education and learning. Despite an enormous input of resources into these schemes, it is extremely hard to comment on the success of these programmes. This is largely due to the lack of follow-up studies, which track the use patterns of the devices, and those which estimate the impact on the learning process facilitated by these devices.

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Updated On : 12th Mar, 2020
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