One of the key areas where tablet PCs are expected to make an impact in the coming decade is school education.
PrazAs, a start-up founded by IIT-Madras graduate Rajesh Elayavalli and incorporated in New Jersey with a research and development centre in Chennai, hopes that its patent-pending technology will help to transform school education in India, as it does in the West. The company is now running trials of its upcoming product Tabtor (short for tablet tutor) among students of two schools — at Santhome in Chennai, and in Bangalore.
Sundi Natarajan, the company's chief of strategy and India head, shared with The Hindu the excitement on the road ahead for Tabtor, which promises to bring personalised tutoring to the masses. “We surely are not talking about replacing teachers with tablet PCs. We know that is impossible. But the technology we have can help teachers and parents monitor the children's skill-set more acutely than ever before.”
In an email interaction, Rajesh said the idea of developing a technology intervention in education had been brewing for long. “In 1996, I started out as a volunteer with Asha for Education in the U.S., a non-profit organisation that provides basic education for underprivileged children in India. I wanted to make a change,” he says.
“There was a project in the late 1990s, ECTAL (Education Content Through Technology Assisted Learning) that was started as part of Asha. The project was simple. Get a few teachers in Chennai to create PowerPoint lectures that could be burned onto CDs and distributed to rural and government schools free of charge. The voice-over could be changed to any language, making the project scalable.” The mission statement for PrazAs is, in a similar way but on a grander scale, to make good education scalable. When the company was formed 18 months ago, the timing seemed right because in the U.S., school students had already been gaining access to tablet PCs, thanks mostly to Apple's successful iPads.
“We developed a patent-pending real-paper technology that makes virtual learning possible from anywhere, anytime and anyplace, and can replace the schoolbook bag. That's the goal — just go to school, eventually with just the tablet computer. The technology allows sharing and review of handwritten work, automatic grading, video tutorials and adaptive analytics”
In its trials, Tabtor is focussing on math-tutoring based on skill-based learning. Students are allowed to create their subscriptions and log in to learn math skills on K-7 grade. And the learning of such skills on Tabtor comes with advantages for teachers. For example, if a student makes a mistake while solving an equation, through real-time analytics teachers will know where he is going wrong. This kind of analysis is simply not possible in a traditional marksheet environment. And this is just one of the many advantages of the system, says Sundi Natarajan.
Tabtor also allows real-time learning collaborations. Since the application is expected to be available across proprietary and even open-source operating systems, there is a good chance that students will be able to access it easily. Sundi Natarajan says the PrazAs team is keen not on making the application network-dependant: students will be able to download assignments for days — or even weeks — through the servers, and access to networks will not be required all the time.
PrazAs is expected to officially launch the application on the iOS and Windows in the next few months in the U.S. and will bring it to India next year with an Android app. The service will be offered through subscription.
To learn more, visit >www.prazas.com.