The size of the market for higher education continues to cross my path through various google alerts, chat rooms, and newsletters. The Indian Government is focusing hard on education and here is some interesting news regarding their plans for providing $35 tablet computers to millions of students.
The Indian government won headlines around the world when it unveiled a prototype 35-dollar tablet computer in July, but questions are now growing over whether the project is just a pipe dream.
At the computer’s launch, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal vowed “the solutions for tomorrow will emerge from India” as he revealed the breathtaking price tag – a fraction of the $500 cost for an Apple iPad.
Officials said the touchscreen device, aimed at the country’s millions of students, could even be hammered down to just $10 once production rates increased.
Later in the piece,
Terry Thomas, a partner in the local arm of global audit firm Ernst and Young, is among those striking a note of caution.
“A computer with all normal functionalities at this price will not be sustainable unless it is subsidised by the government or the industry,” he said.
Thomas suggested a “stripped-down version” with a bare minimum of facilities could perhaps be engineered at nearer the advertised cost, though users would likely be unimpressed.
The first 100 000 computers are slated to be released as soon as January, but details of its exact specifications are still scarce – as is the level of government subsidy that will be essential to keep the price down.
Experts have also warned the device could struggle with issues such as cheap imports and India’s rising labour charges.
“If one takes out the cost of labour then the cost of materials like plastic and silicon will have to be virtually nothing,” said Joydeep Bhattacharya, of the Indian unit of US computer giant Hewlett-Packard.
The incredible expansion of higher education in the developing world will be fascinating as it unfolds. While the America Research University (such as Harvard, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Texas, etc.) is the global standard, today’s reality (cost to replicate something that took 150 years to achieve and available technology) means that we will see some very interesting new models including distance learning and mobility.
How or whether India achieves its ambitious goals remains to be seen, but the vision is worth pursuing as it moves its hundreds of millions forward.