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Udaan: a project
Undaunted by the UPA government's failed Aakash tablet, the NDA rolls out an unbranded version under the Udaan project
January 9, 2015
When Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani announced the launch of Udaan on Children's Day, November 14, 2014, it sounded like yet another government scholarship programme rolled out every now and then. Udaan, it was said, is a CBSE-backed initiative to help disadvantaged girl students to make it to top-notch engineering co lleges by making available free online resources.
But Udaan is not another scholarship programme. It is the return of the not-so-humble tablet computer to the ministry's programmes in a new avatar. Power equations at the Centre may have changed and with it, the thinking on the country's education policy, but the fascination with using tablets to aid education has not. If the UPA government entered this uncharted territory with the Aakash tablet that never really took off, with Udaan, the BJP government has gone ahead and distributed tablets loaded with engineering study modules to students.
As a part of the initiative of making available free online resources, 1,000 girls studying in classes XI and XII from across boards are being gifted these shiny new tablets loaded with content that could help them crack arguably the toughest exam for school-leaving students in India-the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) that opens doors to the prestigious IITs, NITs and other top engineering colleges. Girls, government figures say, account for just 23 per cent of enrolment in engineering colleges in the country.
"The idea behind the move is to ensure that more girls opt for and make it to engineering colleges. While almost every year girls outshine boys in the board exams, very few actually take up engineering courses. The government wants to correct that and provide resources to girls who may not have access to suitable study material or good tutorials," a top HRD ministry official told INDIA TODAY.
The Udaan tablet looks like a more affluent cousin of Aakash. The latter was launched by former HRD minister Kapil Sibal amid much fanfare but has since been junked and forgotten. The new tablet, meanwhile, has a 7-inch touchscreen, slightly smaller than the 7.9-inch screen of Apple's iPad Mini, and is priced at Rs.10,000 as against Aakash's Rs.2,400. However, experts say that the technical specifications of the tablet remain an area of concern and are not in tune with the price. For now, the project is being funded by the application fee that the CBSE board collects from JEE candidates.
A comparison with Aakash tablet
While the manufacture of Aakash was shrouded in controversy, CBSE sources said the new, unbranded tablet is being bought from a Delhi vendor and the academic content has been put together by students of IIT-Delhi, BITS, Pilani, and Delhi Public School, Faridabad, among others.
Also, wiser from the Aakash experience, the HRD ministry is keeping the Udaan project small, to start with. Only 1,000 devices are being distributed in the first year and it will be expanded depending upon response and impact.
Half of the 1,000 girls who get the Udaan tablets will be from the SC/ST/Backward Class category. All of them must be students of physics, chemistry and mathematics and must have scored a total aggregate of at least 70 per cent in Class X, with 80 per cent in science and mathematics. Class XII students must score a minimum 75 per cent marks in physics, chemistry and mathematics in Class XI, in addition to the Class X requirements, to be eligible.
Students will accrue points which will literally be converted into money depending on their performance in the periodic assessment. This amount will be available to the students once they get selected to a college on the approved list. If a student fails to get admission, the money will return to the general pool to assist other students. There are other conditions: students have to maintain 80 per cent attendance in the contact classes, parents or guardians will have to give an undertaking that they will take responsibility for the gadget and school principals will have to give periodic compliance reports.
An IIT professor who was closely involved with the Aakash project said there is a real need for a tablet or a similar access device in the education sector. "Given the huge population in our country, it is not only difficult to set up too many brick-and-mortar institutions all over the country but also to have quality faculty," he said.
"With an expanding broadband network, it makes perfect sense to give the access of low-cost devices to students who may otherwise be deprived of the best educational facilities. Just giving students in remote areas access to the internet and quality lectures across disciplines could change their lives." That is also why most state governments are coming up with laptop or tablet distribution programmes, he reasoned.