Free and accessible education infrastructure

The single biggest problem with any initiatives in education is content, content and finally.. content.

Given that our NCERT’s, only reason for existence is guiding content and material related decisions, it can take a page from what is being done in First World countries that are attempting to make their education more accessible.

The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced an intitative for peer-reviewed educational material as part of a competitive process to select the next set of textbook material. The results of that competition are out and the resultant textbooks are here.

Note that this does not include any politically sensitive subjects like history or social studies, but are mainly studies in Sciences and Mathematics.

One of the problems that I see with California’s approach is the format - PDF - which it used for the textbook format. I believe that all digitally authored content (which differs from scanned content because you are not actually converting from paper into digital format), should be in the form of machine-readable XML. Currently, this is best done using ePub which is designed to ensure that the text of the book fits perfectly in whatever device (computer or mobile) device you are using. Books available in ePub format can be converted very easily into most other formats (including PDF).

In addition, a ePub textbook can be watermarked for ensuring you are reading the version that you were meant to.

There is a lot of educational content that can be tapped if the appropriate distribution infrastructure is created - this includes the format/container for material and the manner in which it is distributed. India is already the biggest participant of the monumental Million Book Project to digitize a lot of local language content. However, we have yet to capitalize on the fruits of this effort due to lack of digital infrastructure.


Free and accessible education infrastructure


August 14, 2009

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