HRD may dump Aakash tablet, hints Pallam Raju
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Four months after he took over the Human Resource Development Ministry from Kapil Sibal, Pallam Raju on Friday indicated that his ministry may give up its much-publicised $35 Aakash tablet aimed at bridging the digital divide.
Marking a major shift in the thinking of the ministry on the subject, Raju said that instead of "an obsession with hardware", the focus should be on enabling students with educational content — also allowing them to choose the device they want.
"Aakash is only a tablet... there are other such devices as well. While work will continue to develop it and increase its productivity, manufacturing is obviously a problem," Raju said of the $35 tablet that now stares at an uncertain future.
The HRD Ministry has also decided to hold back its proposed tender for procuring 5 million Aakash tablets. It has alongside instituted two committees to review the Aakash tablet project as well as the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) and will take a final view on the much publicised tablet depending on these reports.
This is the first instance of Raju attempting a clear reversal of an education policy and position that was strongly backed by predecessor Sibal and in fact by the UPA in its first avatar under Arjun Singh as well.
On the ground, Canadian manufacturer Datawind has only managed to supply 20,000 Aakash tablets so far even as it stares at a March 31deadline for delivery of the remaining 80,000 devices. An unhappy HRD Ministry also recently shot off a letter to IIT Bombay — that tests and preps the Aakash tablet for target users — to take action against Datawind for not meeting delivery deadlines. The ministry is even considering getting Datawind blacklisted if it fails to deliver the remaining devices.
Secretary Higher Education Ashok Thakur admitted the Datawind experience was a big setback for the project. Thakur said the ministry would have been more confident about taking forward the tender for 5 million such devices, if the one lakh tablets had been delivered and assessed through student use.Two committees — one under academic Prof Goverdhan Mehta who is also Chairman BoG IIT Jodhpur and another headed by NIIT Chairman Rajendra Pawar — are currently reviewing the Aakash project.
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