Why India's $35 Aakash Android Tablet is an EduTech Red Herring for ICT Deployments in Education

This week, India's Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) announced the Aakash, a "$35" Android tablet computer they are boastfully claiming is the world's cheapest tablet for education. This claim is an ICT4Edu red herring - a deliberate attempt to divert attention from what really matters in ICT interventions in education.

India’s Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal displays the supercheap Aakash Tablet computer

The $35 price point claim
First, a cheap Android tablet is no great feat. Last year, Indian companies were showing off $35 tablet prototypes and the joke in the computer hardware industry is that with an order for 100,000 units anyone walking off a plane in China can get a cheap Android tablet.
Yet, this Indian tablet isn't actually $35. The Washington Post reports its actually about $45 each, and Engadget says its actually a $60 Ubislate 7 from Datawind. Regardless of cost, government subsidies are required to get to a $35 price point for students and teachers.
But how long will the government be able to subsidize this tablet? According to The Economic Times coverage of the Aakash, HCL Infosystems first won the tender to make the tablets, but then walked away from the deal after the company realized that it could not meet the price expectations of the government - and HCL Infosystems is India's premier hardware and ICT systems integration company.
Stop with the hardware focus
If OLPC taught us anything it was that the price of hardware is but a small percentage (5-15%) of the overall cost of a real ICT in education intervention. In their TCO study, Vital Wave Consulting found that:
Support and training are recurrent costs that constitute two of the three largest costs in the total cost of ownership model. They are greater than hardware costs and much higher than software fees.
So just on the technology side, we should not focus on the hardware or its price point, but the support that should come with any technology intervention and the training and change management that will make it a success.
Concentrate on the real success factors
Let us step back and acknowledge that we really need a three-legged stool of content, technology and people for ICT success in education. There should be equal (if not greater) focus on comprehensive teacher training and quality digital content versus the hardware and its support ecosystem.
If we look at Plan Ceibal arguably the largest and most successful ICT in education activity to date, there is an obvious concerted effort to engage the entire educational ecosystem - from teachers, to students, to parents, to administrators, to the community, and private sector, in a coordinated national program. The actual hardware played a catalytic, yet still small role.
So thanks for pushing the hardware price point envelope in India. That should be good for a few press headlines. But I'll join Michel Trucano in criticizing the often single minded focus, even obsession, on the retail price of ICT devices alone. This is a great distraction, a red herring, from more important issues.

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