Found: Blueprint for a computer-literate India

Jan 10, 2013, 01:08 IST | Hassan M Kamal

IIT Bombay professor, Kannan M Moudgalya and his team have been documenting and creating tutorials for free open source software available on Linux to popularise it in India's schools and colleges. Hassan M Kamal visits the lab to find out more

Room no 311, Automation Division is different from most other labs in the wing that houses the Department of Chemical Engineering at IIT Bombay. Students here are seated in front of desktop PCs, speaking on their mics and listening to the same track repeatedly on their headphones. Each member reads every command, some in Gujarati, a few in Hindi and others in Indian English.

Professor Kannan M Moudgalya at IIT Powai. PIC/Sameer Markande

The lab is, what houses the Spoken Tutorial, an ambitious project that aims to create audio-visual tutorials for all Free Open Source Software (FOSS) and make them available for free on the Web and through DVDs.

Who are they and what do they?
Led by Professor Kannan M Moudgalya, head of the Spoken Tutorial project, a dedicated team of 40 members divided into two teams — Creations, who produce audio-visual tutorials, and Events, who conduct workshops — Spoken Tutorial has been promoting the use of FOSS like LibreOffice (a Linux-based alternative to MS Office), Latex (a high-end, precise ‘type-set’ software useful for students who deal with complex numbers and formulae on a daily basis) in India. “We select the best FOSS programmes, prepare tutorials on them, and make them available to schools, colleges and NGOs. Our aim is to reach government offices and corporates as well, but it will take time,” he adds. These tutorials are available in over 12 languages including Sanskrit, Bodo, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu among others. They also use freelance voice dubbers, who get paid between R500 to R1,000 for a 10-minute programme.

A high-end scientific app Scilab adapted to run on an Android device like Aakash

How it works?
The Spoken Tutorial Event team conducts a small session over Skype, where they select a representative from the target school or college. The representative, from the educational institute, is then introduced to all the process, and stays as a contact point to conduct future workshops, exams, provide the tutorial materials and also distribute the FOSS software.

The Spoken Tutorial team at IIT Bombay

“…Because they are available for free,” reasons the professor, adding, “And are as efficient as any other commercial software.” While FOSS programmes like LibreOffice are for free, licensed software like MS Office cost up to R19,000. Then again, to run MS Office, one requires Windows OS, which comes for another Rs 8,000 to Rs 9,000. On the other hand, LibreOffice works fine on Linux Ubuntu OS, which is also available for free. “So, with FOSS, one doesn’t need to spend thousands purchasing the software. It’s possible to use this money to buy another machine,” maintains the professor who is also a member of the Standing Committee of the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The Spoken Tutorial Project started with an aim to document open source programmes, in June 2011, but now it has expanded into creating audio-video tutorials for all FOSS, porting programming languages like C, C++, SciLab, Python etc and porting school books into e-pub formats and at the same time distributing Linux-based software to schools and colleges.

CD cover of the Libre Office spoken tutorial

The IT Vision
“The main purpose of this project is to make India computer literate,” reasons Moudgalya, adding that it is not possible if one relies only on commercial software. “We have to make the most use of open source software like LibreOffice and Latex and OS like Linux. It’s our only solution,” he concludes.

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