e-Education, Learning & Employment, Winner 2015
Name of Project: Madhura – the gift of voice
Project Website: mile.ee.iisc.ernet.in/mile/
Name of Organization: MILE Laboratory, Indian Institute of Science
Organization Website: mile.ee.iisc.ernet.in/mile/
IISc developing Text To Speech software in Indian languages
Medical Intelligence and Language Engineering (MILE) Laboratory of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore has developed a good quality, natural Text To Speech (TTS) engine for South Indian languages, which will enable and empower people with visual and vocal disability to learn and communicate easily and more effectively. The project is aimed at supporting the education of blind people by providing DAISY books in Indian languages and also enabling them to read any online content and any text document they have on their desktop or laptop, using the TTS together with a screen reader application. The other objectives of the project are: (a) to facilitate people with vocal disability, including post-laryngectomy patients, to be able to communicate freely in their mother tongue by inputting onto a mobile phone and converting it to speech and (b) to facilitate the learning of, and information dissemination to, illiterates by converting information available as text in various media into speech, which they can listen and learn, including daily news. For example, the eShakti project of NABARD is planning to use the TTS to communicate with its rural customers. The project grew out of the recognition that the kind of speech enabled services that are available for the English-knowing population is not available for other populations, more comfortable with the Indian languages. Development of a good TTS in Indian languages is the first step to address this issue. MILE is committed to bridge the gap in serving the country’s rural population who mainly use Indian languages. At present, the software is being used by the Braille Section Team of Anna Centenary Library, Kotturpuram, Chennai. In 2013, they had 975 blind students getting voice messages from the library. Currently, the library has more than 1500 members who are visually challenged.
Remote area students availing Test Preparation courses online
Enfin Technologies has developed a cloud-based training and learning platform for delivering video-based test preparation courses online. Students in smaller towns and villages, as also those who are already working, find it difficult to relocate and avail test preparation courses offered by reputed institutions located in bigger cities for such tests as IIT-JEE, Bank PO, IBPS, government PSC, GATE, engineering and medical entrance exam. The test preparation training institutions also face the problem of huge investments to set up a new branch or franchisee and recruit new set of expert faculty to provide training in smaller towns and villages. The OfaBee Tutor online service solves both these problems by offering courses online. Till date, Enfin has tied up with 10 training institutes with more than 20 courses and enrolment of over 1,000 students. The Ofabee Tutor platform has an interactive and engaging video player which helps the trainers to push questions in between the recorded video lectures to assess students who are watching the videos. It also has a live interactive virtual classroom tool, which helps the trainers to provide Live lectures to up to 500 students at a time and also can do live streaming of regular classroom lectures. The courses are available on both mobile phones and tablets so that students can watch the lecture videos on the go. Enfin is also going to offer an offline video playing mode, where students can play the lecture videos even if there is no Internet connectivity. Enfin will also launch a market place for training institutions where all their courses will be listed on a single platform called RANKXPERT. It is a mobile app through which students can download the app, browse for their courses, pay and subscribe.
Tablet-based model educating children in remote, rural areas
Launched in October 2014, i-Saksham provides in situ education, skill development, and information services in unreached areas through sustainable community learning centres run by locally-skilled youth with the aid of digital technology and content. i-Saksham trains youth from isolated, remote and backward areas to become digitally equipped community tutors. To meet infrastructure related challenges, i-Saksham uses solar-powered Android tablets instead of PCs while lack of Internet connectivity is met by offline loading of content on SD cards. The device penetration is mediated through tutor. By creating economic incentives for community tutors, i-Saksham creates a new cadre of teachers. To meet absorption-related challenges while teaching rural and tribal people, i-Saksham uses education content in Hindi and customizes it to existing learning level of children. Also, the pedagogy is not entirely based on digital content, rather it is integrated with conventional pedagogy with community tutors duly trained and supported with various backend services. The programme integrates skill development, livelihood and education by training community tutors to become digitally literate and they, in turn, earn a livelihood by educating children from their own village. It is also a low-cost delivery model as i-Saksham uses tablets cases with inbuilt keyboard and multimedia speakers costing only Rs. 5,000. The monitoring is decentralised by using Android applications and on-field visits. So far, i-Saksham has nurtured 40 community tutors in far-flung areas of left wing extremism affected districts of Munger and Jamui of Bihar. With the use of the i-Saksham concept, they are not only self learning but are also earning Rs. 2,000-2500 per month. The real direct beneficiaries of i-Saksham are the 2,500 students that i-Saksham has so far reached out to. These students are showing huge learning improvements and are now no more victims of non-functional schools or unorganised tuition centres.
WiFi device helps deliver education in underserved areas
Established in 2012, Zaya Learning Labs is a social enterprise that provides an end-to-end, tech-enabled learning solution to low-cost schools and learning centers. Its full solution includes hardware, learning software, curated content, personalised assessments, and teacher training to help these schools bridge the learning gap at the base of the pyramid. The core of its product is the proprietary Class Cloud, a portable device that acts as a WiFi router, server, storage and battery pack. Teachers and students can access its content using any WiFi-enabled device. The product is unique because it can function with little or no Internet connectivity. Many ed-tech products only function online or have very little personalisation when used offline. The Class Cloud gives the same user experience of an adaptive online platform at a much lower cost, making it accessible to the last mile of users. Zaya also provides support to schools in designing their implementation models and academic plans unlike many other service providers who are very hands-off. The typical hurdles in implementing blended learning are connectivity issues, intermittent electricity, unmotivated teachers and high-cost of the Internet. Zaya’s Class Cloud provides a one-stop solution in the form of providing digital content to educational institutions where any or all of these undesirable conditions exist. The Class Cloud delivers the digital content wirelessly to the students’ devices such as tablets, laptops, or computers. The easy “plug-and-play” installation helps teachers embrace the product as an enhancement to their job. The Class Cloud’s battery pack ensures that lessons can continue at times when electricity is not available. During 2014-2015, Zaya worked with 18 schools across four Indian states, impacting over 3,000 students and almost 90 teachers. By the end of the year, Zaya hopes to reach more than 85 schools and tuition centres across India and East Africa.
Online schools offering high-quality education in rural Bangladesh Founded in 2007, JAAGO Foundation is a non-profit started by a group of young people which works towards eliminating poverty through education in Bangladesh. The foundation provides free-of-cost international standard education to people who cannot afford one. It has developed an interactive and professional video conferencing software, which enables teachers sitting in Dhaka to teach children in remote areas. The software makes the learning process communicative and interactive although the remote learners are only virtually present in the virtual classrooms. Under its education programme, it has so far established 13 schools all over the country where 1800 students are studying. Among the 13 schools, 10 are online schools in different areas of Bangladesh (Gazipur, Rajshahi, Gaibandha, Madaripur, Bandarban, Lakshmipur, Habiganj, Dinajpur, Rangpur and Cox’s Bazar). Since JAAGO’s core project is its online schools, it has been trying to create an inclusive course curriculum for the children. The traditional study materials Bangladeshi students are taught is not adequate for distance learning. Thus, JAAGO’s online team has tailored a curriculum based on digital content (i.e. slides, use of flash drives) that keeps the local context in mind. JAAGO’s school teachers undertake further training to keep up with the growing demand of their job responsibilities, allowing children from all over the country to acquire top-quality education from some of the best teachers of Bangladesh. Whilst JAAGO’s primary focus is on education; it also works on various support projects that aim to empower women and enhance their skills so as to increase employment opportunities for impoverished communities within Bangladesh. For example, it has established a sewing centre run by women, which currently exports high-end designer boutique products to Australia and the UK. Such endeavours enable families to increase their incomes and ensure that their children are able to become fully educated.