Students brace for digital storm, as e-book revolution likely

Last Updated: Wed, Jan 25, 2012 09:08 hrs
​Kindle: First Impressions

Apple's recent foray into education seems to have hit the right notes. In just three days of iBooks 2 release, almost 350,000 e-books were sold. While India is yet to see the launch of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, independent developers in the education space are already eyeing the digitised space.

(iBook Author is an application from Apple that allows anyone to create a multi-touch text book, or any other kind of book, for iPad.)

One such firm is Bangalore-based Attano, funded by venture capital firm Helion Venture Partners, a primary marketplace for interactive education e-books from India. The company, which is still in beta phase, has developed a technology to digitise educational text into an interactive e-book in an hour's time. It also builds in intelligence, allowing parents to track the progress made by the student.

"We have been working on the technology for the last two years. The difference we bring to the market is more than just digitising books. So far, the books available in digital format only address the text format, whether it be fictional books or even educational content. Our technology maintains the look and feel of a text book (like the flow of charts, graphs, etc). Besides, it also has analytics built in," said Soumya Banerjee, CEO, Attano.

Unlike Apple iBooks Author, that only works for the Apple platform, Attano's software can be used for any hardware platform such as Android-based tablets, mobile handsets or even the personal computer.

"Other than providing the technology, we will also work with publishers to sell e-content. At present, we are in a beta phase with 200 books, but in a month's time are hopeful of getting on board 1,500 books. In the next six months, we will also add a dozen or so publishers," added Banerjee. He also adds that soon Attano will make available regional language content.

Attano, while focussing only on the education space, will also be digitising supplement education curriculum. "Our value-add is that these books are recommended by boards such as the CBSE and has co-relation with the ICSE syllabus," he added.

"In education content, each graph and diagram needs to co-relate with the text. The multimedia content available today in the education curriculum does not allow for one integrated view," he added.

Unlike the US, where Apple's iBook 2 has created a lot of buzz and interest among the educational institutes, in India, the digitisation of the education curriculum is still in a nascent stage. This despite the fact that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has ordered for 100,000 tablets called Aakash by Datawind. The one instance available in India are the private International Baccalaureate schools.

Take the case of Universal Education Group (UEG). Jesus S M Lall, its chairman and CEO, said, "At UEG, we write our own curriculum according to the ICSE guidelines. Much curriculum is already digitised. However, ICSE textbooks available in the open market are all paper-based. They have not been digitised. We don't have any student reading textbooks on iOS devices as of now. iBooks 2 was launched earlier this week. Our curriculum team has started on the iBooks Author platform to see how we can digitise material to iPad."

He added they were not a large publisher and, hence, cannot digitise textbooks whose copyright is owned. "But, for in-house content, we were already using the ePub format on iPad iBooks and even e-Readers like Nook and Kindle in our schools. We will evaluate iBooks 2 over the next few months, and if things work out, we will begin using it from the next academic year," he said.

At Mumbai's Billabong High International School, the management is planning to introduce iBooks from June. Deepa Bhushan, its principal, said, "We are looking at the right people to help us digitise the content. We are also assessing the class from which it should be introduced."

Other developers, too, have started eyeing the education space. "We are working with a few educational firms in creating syllabus that is more interactive. We are creating an application to make learning chemistry easy. It will show how chemicals are mix and react," said Rohith Bhat, MD & CEO, Robosoft Technologies.

Bhat adds his company, Robosoft, which is into application development for Apple and other platforms, is working with two educational firms to create applications for digitising educational content.

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