With a slew of new devices and interactive educational content being launched, tablets may soon emerge as an important tool in India's education system and help bring quality content to rural areas.
The Indian tablet market has been growing, with over 50 models of Android tablets available in the market today, as well as Apple's iPads, RIM (Research In Motion) BlackBerry, and several new models running on Linux. Several are affordable, priced in the US$50 to US$500 price range.
Education and healthcare are two sectors touted to gain from an increase in tablet penetration. Several initiatives are already underway in the education space. For instance, in November 2012, Pearson Education announced the launch of a new tablet-based education application for schools in India. Known as the MX Touch platform, it promises school children access to more effective, personalized, and collaborative digital learning, with rich digital content, 3D animations, quizzes, and videos.
Similarly, HCL Infosystems launched two products--HCL My EduTab and HCL MyEduWorld--which offer a learning ecosystem packaged with curriculum mapped digital content, educational applications and games, educational videos, and e-books.
"The products facilitate detailed understanding of concepts, revision, doubt clarification, and self assessment, and broaden the students' understanding of real-world application of theory and concepts," Rothin Bhattacharyya, executive vice president of marketing, strategy, corporate development at HCL.
Similarly, Aakash Educational Services Limited (AESL) launched Aakash iTutor, an education tablet targeted at students preparing for various medical and engineering entrance exams, as well as foundation-level examinations, such as the National Talent Search Examination and Olympiads. In addition, AESL launched iTutor Labs, which offers schools and students educational content available for view 24/7.
According to a study by MAIT, an industry body representing India's IT hardware, training, and R&D services sectors, the tablet market is predicted to see growth rates of 40 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the next five years. It expects 1.6 million units to be shipped this year, increasing to 7.3 million by 2016.
Tablets are growing as a medium due to both its accessibility and reach, noted KG Purushothaman, managing director at Protiviti Consulting.
The Indian government is also promoting tablets as an effective medium for learning. "We have seen strong interest among various educational institutes for adopting My EduTab as a part of their learning ecosystem," Bhattarcharyya said, noting that HCL is in the process of partnering over 30 institutes across India for MyEduTab.
According to Aakash Chaudhry, director at AESL, technology-enabled teaching is a major contributor to the success of a child.
Bhattacharyya concurred, adding that digital technology is one of the most important methods to draw the interest of students.
Schools are increasingly adopting digital teaching products to engage with students in order to make the learning experience a more enriched one. He pointed to the tablet as an important component of this digitization, helping students learn at their own pace.
Chaudhry said: "Often, students are unable to understand a concept due to the teacher's poor communication skills or the pace at which the teacher is teaching." This is where digital educational content comes in handy, he said.
Pearson Education, which offers both digital and printed educational content, also provides digital content for classes 3 to 8. "We are working on six to seven pilots at schools. The idea is to make education more interesting and help the child learn at his own pace," said Naveen Rajlani, Pearson Education's vice president of schools division. The content is priced at around US$28 (INR 1500) per student.
Language support needed to take tablets to villages
Tablets can help bring quality content to rural India and improve the education system at the grassroots level. However, Purushothaman does not see tablets penetrating rural areas in the next three to five years. "Tablets still have not reached villages. We need broadband connectivity in rural India and better power supply in villages for that to happen," he said.
There are also other reasons why tablets are not making their way into villages. For one, the state boards are not as forthcoming.
Rajlani said: "If we get an opportunity from the state government [to introduce MX Touch in schools], we will definitely take it up. We are still at the discussion stage with various state governments."
Moreover, most of the content created for tablets is in English, and the lack of keyboards in Indian languages has been a huge challenge. Only 11 percent of the Indian population knows English.
With growth in the market and availability of better devices, tablets may find their way into the rural education system. Such a scenario has the potential to create a positive change in the education system in our rural areas.
However, things are changing. On January 28, Mumbai-based technology and electronic manufacturing company WishTel introduced a new range of BSNL IRA ICON tablets loaded with Hindi OS interface. The device enables Android users to type in Hindi, as well as read and access all functions and icons in Hindi.
Bhattacharyya said: "With growth in the market and availability of better devices, tablets may find their way into the rural education system. Such a scenario has the potential to create a positive change in the education system in our rural areas."
According to Chaudhry, AESL has sold hundreds of units of iTutor in rural and other areas that are not as well connected. "These are the areas where there is a dire need for quality education," he said.
Without controls, tablets can be counteractive
While there are no studies to determine the actual benefits of using tablets in education, Rajlani believes that these will be multifarious. Parents can monitor the academic progress of their children more accurately with easy access to assignments, difficult lessons covered at school, as well as archived assessments and tests, he explained.
Technology, however, can be misused by students. Chaudhry said that the Internet is akin to fire: "If misused, it can destroy the student's learning abilities and focus." He stressed the need for both parents and teachers to monitor the content coverage and usage of the device. "To ensure tablets are used effectively and for education purpose alone, school authorities should not let the students download malware and other illegal content on the devices," he added.
"The power of its use and coverage cannot be underestimated. With lack of quality teaching staff across the urban and rural areas of the country, it can serve as a good means of imparting standardized education," Chaudhry said.