Tuesday, December 17, 2013

CII Conference on e-Learning and e-Publishing

I attended the above conference in Park Sheraton, Chennai yesterday. I spoke on the technology challenges one has to face in producing and delivering E-books for the Indian languages.

But more than my session, I enjoyed the last session on "Tablet Based Education".

Couple of years ago, I spoke at TEDxSSN about the need to introduce a complete Tablet based education at the school level. I was then disillusioned as I tested with many low cost Chinese Android devices. They were completely crap, the Android OS was not up to the mark, and I felt the entire Tablet revolution will be only for the rich and stopped thinking about it.

Subramanian Viswanathan of CEO of Edtech made some good points about why Tablet today may win where models such as OLPC failed in the past. I agree with him. I hope I paraphrase him correctly thus:-
  1. Tablets have a fantastic, natural interface through "touch", which even a child which has not learnt letters of a language can operate, while keyboards and mouse are a lot more difficult. Over time, we are going to get "gesture recognition" which will make it even better and easier.
  2. Tablets are getting thinner and faster and hence easy to hold and take around.
  3. Bandwidth is getting better and people are making provisions in schools for this.
  4. Unlike the Laptops software, apps have been unleashed for the tablets. The app store concept has made content and application creation and dissemination too easy. Social media has become stronger and the connectedness helps in innovative uses for the product.
  5. The users have become co-creators, and not just passive consumers.
He was suggesting that people invest in branded products rather than the cheap chinese tablets. (I should know better!)

But the really fascinating talk was the one that followed - by Shefali Jhaveri, a teacher at the Canadian International School at Bangalore. Her school has introduced iPads for all the students. No books, no notebooks. Everything is done in their iPads. To get the teachers familiar with this product, the teachers were given the iPads a good six months ahead.

The default apps that come with the iPad for the students include Pages, Numbers, Keynote, iMovie, Comic Life and she also talked later about Doceri. Students write their reports using Pages, presentations using Keynote, and also compile their projects using Doceri (a screen animator app - I have not used this). Comic Life is used by the students to create some of their projects.

Teachers trawl through iTunes Univ and identify course material rleated to the syllabus they have to teach. Text books are provided through iPad directly (I didn't figure out who the publisher was and whether iBooks was the book reader).

Subramanian, in his presentation, said most teachers are against the tablet because it does not enable handwriting that well, but that soon good writing may be possible with a pen like device. (I have found handwriting cumbersome as well currently with the current stylus models.)

Shefali talked about and demonstrated a human body app which mimics digestive system, respiratory system, circulatory system etc. which provides students with excellent understanding of these lessons far better than the boring printed book.


Of course, there are challenges in India for the neighbourhood low cost schools. There are even bigger challenges for the Indian language schools. It is up to us to take this exciting idea to the next level.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The incredible Arvind Kejriwal

I have been following Arvind Kejriwal, since Anna Hazare's movement against corruption gained prominence. I read through the various Jan Lokpal draft bills, and was not entirely impressed by them. I am not sure whether the institution of Lokpal will solve our corruption problem. However, I have felt strongly to support the activities of Hazare, and donate little bits of money wherever possible.

Popular support for Hazare's cause went up and then came down. That was inevitable. Many factors came together to defeat him. Hazare himself was one of the reasons.

But, when Hazare went on fast and the parliament had to be convened in a special session to debate corruption and Lokpal - that was the highest point of the anti-corruption movement. If you are cynical, you will laugh at this. The debaters in the parliament were all past masters of corruption and wheeling-dealing. It was clear that no good will come out of this special session other than to get Hazare to end his fast. You knew that the movement was going to fizzle out. Then why all this euphoria?

But the simmering discontent was there. Hazare didn't know how to make the best use of it. Kejriwal knew, and started his party - AAP. With just one year in hand, he seems to have done an outstanding job of galvanising the Delhi voters. This is simply incredible. Two days have passed since the Sunday results and I am yet to come to grips with this result. Defeating CM Sheila Dikshit in her own constituency, winning 28 seats, winning such a large percentage of votes, all with probably a small fraction of the funds at their disposal compared to that of BJP and Congress, are nothing short of amazing. From various accounts, it appears that even the AAP top folks are surprised by the results.

It is quite possible that AAP will wither away like Asom Gana Parishad. It is equally possible that AAP will go on to consolidate its position in a few states if not the entire country. Small states and Union Territories across India are ripe for such a new force. Pondicherry and Goa could be ideal pickings in future. States where there is no worthwhile opposition are other possibilities. For example, Maharashtra is drifting away with four large parties forming two fronts and none growing beyond their size. This state is ideal for AAP to firmly plant themselves in. Haryana which is ruled by a blatantly corrupt Congress, but where BJP has hardly played a serious role of opposition is another great opportunity. In fact, even Gujarat is a possibility where Congress is weakening steadily and those opposed to Modi want a strong rallying point.

This also opens up possibilities for other forces. Tamil Nadu is stuck between AIADMK and DMK, Both are incredibly corrupt, utterly inefficient, totally casteist and they hardly even talk about good governance. The challengers to these parties are breakaways from the same stock or are similar in content and form. AIADMK leader has not developed a second line of leadership. DMK leadership struggle may result in internecine family quarrels. AAP, or a similar group can establish itself in Tamil Nadu, if they do enough groundwork.

I am a little nervous about AAP's views on economics and other matters. But then, most parties in India have no views at all and they blithely go around destroying the country. Some of AAP's candidates seem to be dodgy characters, but by and large AAP seems to have given tickets to common folks who will never get a chance in any other party. That gladdens me a lot. If they maintain this character, I will support them wholeheartedly.

[Disclaimer: I have published the Tamil translation of Arvind Kejriwal's book 'Swaraj', தன்னாட்சி: வளமான இந்தியாவை உருவாக்க and my company is likely to gain if this book in Tamil sells more copies.]