A few months ago, the Marathwada Institute of Technology, Aurangabad, got in touch with the Spoken Tutorial team at the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B). The former had been approached by a company, which wanted to hire students specialising in PHP (a language designed to produce web pages).
The institute did not have the course in its syllabus. "They approached the Spoken Tutorial team. More than 30 students from the college took the course and of these, six were hired," said Kannan M Moudgalya, a professor at IIT-B.
Spoken Tutorial is an audio-video tutorial that explains an activity performed on a computer, with an expert explaining the working of the software by demonstrating it on the screen. This is now available on Aakash-2 tablets.
The ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has said 100,000 tablets are expected to be delivered to engineering institutes by the end of March 2013. IIT-B is making sure that education applications are made available to students through these tablets. Over 200 teachers and students have been working for the last six months to port all projects that have been developed under the National Mission on Education through ICT over the last three years on Aakash-2.
Spoken Tutorial; Talk to a Teacher; e-Yantra systems; virtual labs; educational animations, free and open source software for science and engineering; and development of design content are among the many applications being made available on the tablet.
One of the most ambitious project of MHRD, Aakash tablets are supposed to change the way education is being delivered in India. So far, 20,000 Aakash (including Aakash 1 and 2) have been distributed to engineering students.
"By the end of March, the government would have procured 100,000 tablets. Of these, 40 tablets each will be given to 250 colleges. We have trained around 12,000 teachers across these colleges on the use of Aakash," said professor Deepak Phatak, head of the project at IIT-B.
Aakash-1 was launched by MHRD in October 2011. In April 2012, IIT-B was given the responsibility of the project. "When we came on board, the first thing we asked for was upgrade in the hardware," added Phatak. He is hopeful that the subsequent versions - Aakash 3 and 4 - would have higher processor speed.
Aakash-3 is also likely be equipped with a SIM slot. About 5 million Aakash-3 tablets are expected to be rolled out in the next phase, the global tender for which may be floated in February. Other than creating applications for Aakash, IIT-B has gone a step ahead and built a Linux operating system for the tablet. The Aakash-3 would have a faster processor and support both Linux and Android.
These applications will enable a student or a teacher to access courses developed by IIT-B for free. For instance, Spoken Tutorial allows a student to take tutorials remotely, without help. So far, 1,000 tutorials have been created on various topics, of which 350 are originals. Till date, 100,000 students have accessed these tutorials. "While we create tutorials in English, we are also dubbing them into regional languages. Our aim is to have all tutorials in 32 languages mentioned in the Constitution of India recognises," said Moudgalya.
Similarly, the Industrial Design Centre at IIT-B has created 100 courses--50 are available online. "So far, we have 10,000 page views per day and 700 people visit the website per day. The courses have been made in such a way that a student can understand concepts and process of 2D animations and other design aspects. All these are available on Aakash-2 as well," said professor Ravi Poovaiah.
IIT-B is also making sure that the connect between the teacher and student is not lost in a computerised teaching environment. For this, IIT-B has developed an app called Clicker, which allows the teacher to see if the concept that has been taught is understood by taking automated quiz in every 30 minute of a lecture. This application also allows teachers to track a student's progress.
Till date, Aakash tablets have been provided to engineering students only. IIT-B, however, will soon carry out pilot projects in schools. At present, IIT-B has digitised SSC maths and science syllabi from ninth to 12 standards. "We have identified a school in Pandharpur in Maharashtra and Bhikangao, a town in Khargone district in Madhya Pradesh. We are also running a pilot of creating solar chargers for these tablets to be used in schools were electricity is not regular," said Phatak.