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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Miracle Pill or Cheap Gimmick?

Minister Kapil Sibal

"The Aakash . . . is destined to revolutionize computing and Internet access for the world," says Kapil Sibal, India's Minister of Communications and Information Technology.

Credit: Mahesh Kukreja

With his raised right fist pointing to the sky and the shining gadget in his left hand, India's Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, unveiled the world's cheapest tablet computer, Aakash, last Wednesday (October 5). "This is for all of you who are disempowered. This is for all of you who have no access. This is for all those who are marginalized," Sibal said to eager applause.

Aakash is a promising gizmo, but it raises important questions. As the world's cheapest tablet, it has the potential of being a game-changer that empowers India's poor. But potential is not performance. "It's rather silly to confuse investment in technology with investment in education. Access to Internet is not going to revolutionize the Indian educational system which is falling apart," said sociologist Shiv Visvanathan.

Sparse rural electrification is also an issue. It's anybody's guess how the tablet can be re-charged in villages that get power for a couple of hours a day. "No thought has been given to this issue," says an official in the ministry of science and technology. "You just can't dump technology on rural communities and hope it will work."

Some question the tablet's usefulness. "Distribution of technology is not a solution of problems rural India faces. You are connecting them to a world they don't need to know and what they need to know is being ignored," says Vibha Gupta of Rural Women Technology Centre, an NGO in Wardha.

From The Times of India
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