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As Sibal’s Aakash falters, Congress-led states embrace XO

Friday, 6 April 2012 - 8:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
The XO would cost the states over $230 (more than Rs11,700 a piece), which is much higher than $49.98, or around Rs2,500 per tablet, Canadian firm Datawind was charging the Centre.

The Congress governments in Rajasthan and Manipur have junked Aakash, the much-hyped tablet PC, for XO laptops, made by US non-profit organisation One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). And it is a far more expensive alternative.

The XO would cost the states over $230 (more than Rs11,700 a piece), which is much higher than $49.98, or around Rs2,500 per tablet, Canadian firm Datawind was charging the Centre.

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal, a zealous promoter of Aakash, had earlier said that it would act as a game-changer education aid. But controversy has dogged the project from the word go.

Initially, there were technical glitches — poor battery life, overheating and poor screen quality — that limited the usage to closed areas. Then there was confusion regarding Datawind and IIT Rajasthan; whether the two had been shown the door. Both players have been pointing fingers at each other over the device’s failure.

The government is now said to have roped in the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and state-owned telecom equipment manufacturer, Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), to take the ambitious project forward. Sibal, in fact, said in Parliament last month that the upgraded version — Aakash II with a longer battery life and better screen — would be launched sometime in April.

Expectedly all this has affected supply commitments though Datawind CEO Suneet Singh Tuli had claimed in an earlier interview to DNA that they had already supplied 10,000 units against an order for 100,000.

Hence the rush for the next ‘cheapest’ alternative, one might say.
Unlike the tablet Aakash, the XO laptops are the size of a textbook and contain the curricula of various boards in several languages to facilitate learning in schools.

The Ashok Gehlot-led government in Rajasthan announced, in its budget late last month, that it would procure XO laptops — called ‘special learning laptops’ — and supply to 24,000 Std VIII students.

The Ibobi Singh-led government in Manipur is thinking of ordering more XO laptops. In fact, OLPC India has already supplied more than 70,000 laptops to the Manipur government for use in its schools.

Two more Congress-led states have approached OLPC, Satish Jha, chairman of OLPC India, said. Six non-Congress governments too have approached. “The chief ministers and education ministers of these states want to incorporate the laptops in their schools.”




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