The curious case of the Aakash tablet

Last month, the New York Times published a blog post titled “The Aakash Project’s Bitter Finish”, outlining a number of problems that led to a very problematic state of affair with the ambitious project. While some of them seem to be classic examples of bureaucratic botch-ups (testing criteria lifted directly from specs of ruggedized HP laptops, etc), there also seems to be deeper issues at hand. Unless I’m missing something, it was never clear at any point what the pedagogical goal or methodology of the project was - the only thing I could glean from information from various news outlets is the fact that Aakash was primarily destined to be a content consumption device, enabling little beyond the rote-learning model we are so accustomed to. A computing device has incredible potential to be an object to think with, rather than an object to consume with, and it is terribly frustrating to see significant of effort and money going into a half-baked idea that merely scratches the surface of the possibile oppurtunities.

The National Curriculum Framework (2005), released by the Indian National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) states:

If ET (educational technology) is to become a means of enhancing curricular reform, it must treat the majority of teachers and children not merely as consumers but also as active producers.

A computing device can be an ideal medium for learners to construct and explore knowledge, through the active manipulation and production of digital artifacts, and I sincerely hope that the next set of ideas that come up around Aakash (or a similar program) take this into account.

Relevant disclosure: I have been in the past, involved with the One Laptop Per Child project. My current research involves exploring computation as a medium for expression and creativity.

May 21, 2012