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Why India’s $35 Aakash Android Tablet is an EduTech Red Herring for ICT Deployments in Education

By Wayan Vota on October 7, 2011

This week, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) announced the Aakash, a “$35” Android tablet computer they are boastfully claiming is the world’s cheapest tablet for education. This claim is an ICT4Edu red herring – a deliberate attempt to divert attention from what really matters in ICT interventions in education.

India’s Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal displays the supercheap Aakash Tablet computer

The $35 price point claim

First, a cheap Android tablet is no great feat. Last year, Indian companies were showing off $35 tablet prototypes and the joke in the computer hardware industry is that with an order for 100,000 units anyone walking off a plane in China can get a cheap Android tablet.

Yet, this Indian tablet isn’t actually $35. The Washington Post reports its actually about $45 each, and Engadget says its actually a $60 Ubislate 7 from Datawind. Regardless of cost, government subsidies are required to get to a $35 price point for students and teachers.

But how long will the government be able to subsidize this tablet? According to The Economic Times coverage of the Aakash, HCL Infosystems first won the tender to make the tablets, but then walked away from the deal after the company realized that it could not meet the price expectations of the government – and HCL Infosystems is India’s premier hardware and ICT systems integration company.

Stop with the hardware focus

If OLPC taught us anything it was that the price of hardware is but a small percentage (5-15%) of the overall cost of a real ICT in education intervention. In their TCO study, Vital Wave Consulting found that:

Support and training are recurrent costs that constitute two of the three largest costs in the total cost of ownership model. They are greater than hardware costs and much higher than software fees.

So just on the technology side, we should not focus on the hardware or its price point, but the support that should come with any technology intervention and the training and change management that will make it a success.

Concentrate on the real success factors

Let us step back and acknowledge that we really need a three-legged stool of content, technology and people for ICT success in education. There should be equal (if not greater) focus on comprehensive teacher training and quality digital content versus the hardware and its support ecosystem.

If we look at Plan Ceibal arguably the largest and most successful ICT in education activity to date, there is an obvious concerted effort to engage the entire educational ecosystem – from teachers, to students, to parents, to administrators, to the community, and private sector, in a coordinated national program. The actual hardware played a catalytic, yet still small role.

So thanks for pushing the hardware price point envelope in India. That should be good for a few press headlines. But I’ll join Michel Trucano in criticizing the often single minded focus, even obsession, on the retail price of ICT devices alone. This is a great distraction, a red herring, from more important issues.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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15 Comments to “Why India’s $35 Aakash Android Tablet is an EduTech Red Herring for ICT Deployments in Education”

  1. Vinay Rajagopal says:

    Agree with you. Given the state of affairs in Indian Govt Schools, cost of the ICT device isn’t the main problem Govt should be tackling. Effective distribution system of Knowledge is what is of more importance. This was just a treat for the media.

  2. mma view says:

    cheap price should not be the main focus .the education system should be improve first as it will also become the source for spoiling students

  3. Neil D'souza says:

    I think calling it a joke is probably pretty harsh on the initiative. Like you clearly mentioned OLPC has thought us that hardware is the smallest part of solving ICT education issues , but if you are placed with an issue of buying a $200 tablet or a $45 tablet to solve the %15 percent of ICT hardware issues then the $45 one make a lot more sense.

    It is probably making the headlines because it is by far the cheapest option out there . It does need a plan to supplement it just like OLPC does , but its hard to ignore the effectiveness of how cost plays a very crucial role in a country where people cannot afford to buy expensive powerful computers. If you give Guatemala or kenya the option of picking an IPad and buying 1000 pieces rather than buying 10000 or these cheap tablet for which most of us will only use a browser , then i think the latter might make more sense.

  4. scottkipp says:

    I would tend to agree with Neil above; yes it’s an obvious headline & yes (of course) hardware is but a piece of the story, that is not saying anything new. But labeling it for those reasons as a “joke” seems to be more of an irreverent attempt to snatch those same headlines.

    If the Aakash came out at $100, the bemoan would fall on its high cost. I am not aware of any of the excessively optimistic claims for impact coming from the MHRD that once flowed freely from the Media Lab when OLPC was grabbing headlines, so it might be in better taste to wait and see how the Indians decide to use it and support it for learning. It’s not hard to imagine this deployment leading to the growth of a wide and decentralized community of activists and enthusiasts.

  5. Wayan Vota says:

    Scott, then you must have forgotten about the “$10 computer” fiasco from MHRD, that turned out to be nothing more than a flash drive. (see here.

    Yes, the MHRD is just as prone to hype as OLPC, and both focus on the gadget only, which is a joke when you look at the many problems plaguing education in India (and around the globe). The problems are not going to be fixed by a $30 tablet any better than a $100 (or $200) laptop.

  6. scottkipp says:

    I remember the $10 computer mystery, but I’m still not convinced your post makes a thorough argument for completely dismissing this project’s merits and labeling it a joke, nor the argument for entirely considering it a red herring. What has the MHRD said about its expectations for the device, for training, for use?
    If the device handles Android well, its potential manifest in learning environments in a country with a very involved developer community is, at best, hard to predict. Unlikely to be perfect or a cure-all, of course, but even if you could predict how it will be used, incorporated and developed, and you remained convinced that it was a laughably poor choice of resource allocation for MHRD, it would be helpful to offer your punchline — what exactly should the MHRD spend their money on?

  7. LYDIA says:

    I think the post by ICT works is unnecessarily vitriolic and makes we wonder whether the writer has an axe to grind with the Indian government.
    so there is more to ICT than the hardware, why dont we congratulate them for what they have done so far? and make suggestions to help them get cheaper training etc? why an outright dismissal and condemnation?

    He also makes the point that the cheap price could have been matched in China, well why didnt someone do so earlier? I am sure the Indian government would like to talk to any company that can match that price if as the post says, the AAKASH is subsidised

  8. Wayan Vota says:

    I don’t have an issue with the Indian government, I have an issue with anyone who declares that hardware price alone has any bearing on the advancement of ICT in educational systems. Even if there were free tablets for education, the overall cost and difficulties would still be there. So less about hardware and more about the real (and really difficult) issues of teacher training and relevant content.

  9. Pritam Kabe says:

    Just got back from a 3-month research stint in India. The quality of basic public education in India is abysmal. And lack of technology is NOT the reason why.

    At least from what i saw, Teacher accountability is seriously lacking in the Indian public schools, and is one of the main reasons why the quality of education is so poor. And the release of Aakash will do nothing but mask the REAL issues in the Indian education system.

    -Pritam.

  10. Ashwani Kumar says:

    Educational Tablet is the greatest product to improve the education system.When it will be available in indian market,so that student can purchase this device.I am a Delhi University Student, so I want to know that can only Student purchase this device or other persons also.
    I am so exited to buy this device and I want to see that how this device can improve my self study.

    Ashwani kumar

  11. S.Arshad says:

    Dear sir
    I am arshad student please inform me ”Aakash Android Table” releaseing date

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hello,i am student of class 10+2 in a govt. School,faridkot(Punjab)
    Tell me how can I get the HCL AAKASH TABLET at cheapest price

  13. Parashuram says:

    You i m poor i need that tablet computer because i m student of computer science and help how can i buy it in lower cost

  14. Parashuram says:

    You know i m poor i need that tablet computer because i m student of computer science and help how can i buy it in lower cost

  15. namrata says:

    Hi,

    Recently i have been hearing a lot about this Xtab A10 which is the cheapest 5 point capacitive, 1.5 GHz, HDMI, USB, Android 4.0 tablet @ Rs 5490 launched by NXG Electronics. Can you please suggest me whether or not i should book this tablet for me as i am really new to this tablet world.