The Akash table, designed in India, is expected to be delivered for schools and other education institutions with a price tag of $35 per unit (this is the Indian government’s subsidised price). The Akash is naturally challenging the One Lap Top Per Child project’s XO-laptop and number of other netbooks provided for schools.
I have been critical about the design and development process and some aspects of the pedagogical approaches in the OLPC. After reading the first reviews of the Aakash I am not convinced about their pedagogical design, either. For someone outside, it looks that the Aakash is designed as “generic tablet”, not as a pedagogical tool. In this area, I think, the OLPC’s XO is at least trying to make a real difference.
I am afraid that the Aakash design team did not have anyone thinking about the pedagogy. The main aim has been to deliver a cheap tablet. Maybe that is what is needed, but from research (or innovation) point of view, I do not find it very interesting. Aakash is just a cheap tablet.
Actually, I think that in the Aakash there are probably many usability issues, too. The Aakash comes with a resistive touchscreen. I know that this is a matter of price, but the difference in the user experience between the resistive and capacitive touchscreen (used e.g. in iPad) is a real issue. People want to use thing with their fingertips. I believe that there are biological reason for it: the fingertips contains densest area of nerve endings.
We love to touch things. Pressing and touching feel very different. With a touch we can navigate, move things around, draw with our fingers (most natural way), and write relatively comfortably (with a virtual keyboard). This is the right starting point for a school device. When this is in place, we should think and design another “layer” that could work more like a paper and pen. For instance a cover of a touchscreen could be a “digital paper” on what one could draw and write with a stick, with any stick. The “smart cover” could be even smarter.
The online review also tells tat the Aakash actually does pretty good job with playing video. That is of course nice, but this can be analysed also from the point of view of pedagogical affordance. Is the idea that one could watch educational video programs with the device? Probably. Again OK, but not necessary a priority.
Design is difficult. Designing pedagogical affordances is really difficult. Will we ever get it right?
Here is my advise for schools and parents considering buying new devices for school children:
If you are short of money. Wait. We may get it right (affordable pedagogical tool), soon (in 3-4 years). At this point there is no hurry. You can still carry out quality education with papers, pens, books and maybe some PCs in the corner of the classroom. Invest to teachers, drawing paper, colours and pens, library with books etc.
If you have some money: At first, iInvest to teachers, drawing paper, colours and pens, library with books etc. With ICT budget invest mostly to netbooks with some easy-to-use Linux distribution, eg. EduBuntu. Buy maintenance of the Linux netbooks from a local service provider. If there isn’t any ask your high school students to start one – they can do it. In addition to this, you may also buy couple of iMacs as workstations for more advanced creative work (graphic, audio, video etc). These are pretty maintenance free. Your service provider should be able to take care of them too (they are Unix anyway).
If you have a lot of money: At first, iInvest to teachers, drawing paper, colours and pens, library with books etc. With your ICT budget just get it all: iPad 2s, netbooks with easy-to-use Linux distribution and iMacs for more advanced creative work (graphic, audio, video etc). Buy maintenance from your a local service provider. Again, your students should be able to run it.