Monday, February 20, 2012

Open Source Textbooks - Now that is new!

Recently I read an article in techcrunch which talked about open source text books. This was the first time I came across such an idea. Very interesting really!

It talks about how costly text books are and how open source can help a lot. It also talks about how there are some ventures/firms which are working in this area (with the recent addition of apple with there new iBooks etc.). It also mentions about the usage of tablet like devices where text book content can be received and consumed (that takes away the cost of printing/publishing). At the end it mentions that it would probably take 10 years for open source text books become main stream (that is to grab around 25% of the market share). All this is in the context of U.S.

Will this ever happen in India!

That is the thought that struck me immediately. For that first I wanted to consider whether we need such a thing. When I look at my daughter Harinya's book needs (she is studying in Upper Kindergarten), the cost is sufficiently high for her age. Even my college books were quite costly at that time. So does this mean there is some kind of need for open source text books. May be.

I thought about it a bit more. I remembered that during my school education we used text books from NCERT which were of good quality and extremely cheap. I went to their site and found that they allow you to download books from class I to XII from the site. Of course these are copyright protected and hence cannot be reprinted or redistributed (that's restrictive, but its better than nothing). Now if students can get hold of these directly then it would be great for them to use. But this means that the students need someway to access this content and store it so that they can read from it. How can they do that without some kind of device and internet connection.

Recently there was news on the Aakash tablet. If Aakash really becomes possible (is that too much to hope for), it is an ideal platform for students to get such content and use it. Wow! that sounds like a complete end to end solution. Is it too good to be true?

I don't know whether the Aakash tablets are available for kids in school. From what I understand the tablet is available only to college students at least as of now. And NCERT books are available only for school students. Now this means that two ends of the above solution never meet. So these efforts become pretty much useless (unless something changes).

Even if these meet, I still see two problems. The schools in India can follow different syllabuses and different boards. So depending on the board, the content available through NCERT might or might not be relevant. Also individual schools which follow the same syllabus as NCERT may still use different text books than what is available through NCERT. Can this be changed? I don't know. The other part is that for higher studies there is nothing like NCERT which is providing free/cheap content (may be that's going to change - I am not sure, I would like to know). Till that happens, the content required for studies will still be very expensive (expensive is a relative term and here I mean expensive for India.)

Does this mean Open Source text books are going to be useful for India? I am positive it is going to be. But the question is when will it happen in India. I would like to believe it is soon but I don't think it will happen. I hope I am wrong! What do you think?

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