Computer Education In Schools-The Open Source WayInOpen Technologies, an IIT Bombay based technological start-up, designs and develops special educational content and solutions for academia. We call it special because the content and training completely uses Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). Rupesh Kumar Shah, chief executive officer and founder of InOpen Technologies, shares his experience with Shweta Dhadiwal Baid of EFYTimes, on how the free and open concept turned into a thoughtful and successful business.What does InOpen Technologies do?
InOpen offers global innovative education curriculum based on Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) to schools and colleges. Open Source gives an instantaneous advantage of affordability and effective community support to all the solutions. InOpen envisions itself as an effective computer learning system by creating quality education standards the Open Source way. The simplicity of our solutions to the complex and underlying problems of academia is our strength. The curriculum is designed after a thorough research and association with academic team comprising of professors, psychologist, and experts in various fields coming from world-class universities.Why did InOpen choose the Open Source way?
We believe in openness and longevity of the solutions which we teach in schools. Schools and colleges face difficulty in long run using proprietary software and applications as issues like piracy, maintenance and TCO (total cost of ownership) keeps on coming up.
Open Source offers instantaneous advantages of affordability and long-term stability with respect to system maintenance. InOpen have plugged ComputerMasti across 35 Schools. We have now been able to reduce their expenditure on software and licences by 80 per cent. If we talk in terms of numbers, we have saved at least Rs 40,00,000 .
Another key advantage of Open Source is that it offers a virus-free environment. A very interesting observation is that students were not allowed to use Internet and data transfer with fear of virus attack on the school system. It definitely hampers their learning. But now schools feel secure and students enjoy their learning. Also using Open Source proxy or Web-based proxy management services like Open DNS helps them in preventing visit to unwanted websites. How does a school or educational institute react to Open Source concept?
It's not that schools can't use Open Source. It's the perception that Linux is geeky which prevents them from experimenting. The biggest challenge is awareness. Firstly, people weren't aware of alternate technologies and if some of them were they considered Linux to be geeky. We had to give presentation and demonstration of how it can help them before they could see some sense.
Another challenge was the inhibition to experiment. For schools, stability is the number one preference. It means all their printers, their networking arrangements should work, so forth and so on. Hence we adopted an alternate approach of giving them a Windows-based installer which runs all open source applications mentioned in the curriculum and also dual boot to their machines. Gradually through trainings and counsellings, we are now able to migrate them to Open Source.What was the entrepreneurial journey like?
Under the guidance of Prof. Sridhar Iyer of computer science department, IIT Bombay, I did my research on open source. With a group of friends, we first developed training programme to teach higher level computer science to college students. The training programme became a hit due to its contents and innovative way of training. We managed to train 6,000 students across 11 engineering colleges clocking revenue of Rs 10 million.
The idea to extend a similar programme to the schools clicked after talking to Prof. Sridhar. He had already been working on development for school for the past three years. We worked with him on a curriculum called "Computer Masti" for school students. Initially, it seemed a little difficult considering the logistics and finance, but we approached Society of Innovation and Entrepreneur (SINE) for incubation. SINE Incubation helped the company in terms of basic infrastructure, guidance for business and overall visibility in terms of brand building and investors. InOpen Technologies was formed in September 2009 and incubated in SINE till December 2009.
Today we have around 35 people working for InOpen and a influential and diversified client base. The company now harbours a vision to be considered as a world-class content generation and teacher training company by 2013-14.
We intend to supply the highest quality of content and training in all major subjects for schools by 2015. We have managed to reach a revenue of Rs 1 crore and target 24 crores by 2013-14 and 100 crores by 2017-18.What were the major challenges faced by the company to build a start-up or business on open source?
Our biggest challenge was the perception of the people. Schools perceive us to be a regular information and communication technology (ICT) vendor in the market. It's only when they see our research efforts and strong concentration on quality of implementation and services that they get convinced. Another challenge is that the content is different from the usual ones available in the market.
Another challenge we are facing is to get middle management and senior management professionals. We are also working on developing business associates and channel partners to expand our reach.What kind of products do you offer?
The products we offer are:Computer Masti
: A computer science curriculum for schools based on National Curriculum Framework. The services offered are designing and implementing customised computer curriculum for schools, training the IT department of school, assessment of computer education, deployment of computer teachers and system administration in the schools, setting up of IT infrastructure etc. We have named the services as CM++ which is the turn key solution, CM+ and CM Basic. In the basic model, we train the teachers annually and provide them with a hand hold support which can either be monthly, quarterly or half yearly as per the preference of schools. Schools enter in a three-five years legal contract for the same.Tux Mate
: This is the vocational arm of InOpen. In Tux Mate, we offer long-term and short-term courses to students of engineering and technical colleges on Linux and Open Source-based software. We have trained 6,000 students already.What are the key values of Computer Masti (CM) programme?
The programme, based on a thorough research done at IIT Bombay under the guidance of a professor, gives a strong quality assurance. It is an up-to-date national curriculum for computer science which is revised from time to time. It develops life skills and strong analytical abilities in a child. The structure of the programme is such that it adds the "fun" while learning element. The content is in a story format.
InOpen-IIT Bombay implements the programme by assisting schools in setting up its labs, getting its teachers trained, and providing all necessary support for the CM.Could you elaborate on what all is included in your Open Source curriculum?
For primary section, we have included open source games to teach the students how to use mouse, keyboard, typing etc. in a 'fun to learn' way. For higher grades, the programme becomes more complex. The students learn the software for various applications as recommended by the national curriculum framework. These applications include gCompris, Scratch (from MIT), Open Office, Tux Paint. We plan to include programming languages like Qbasic and Python and subsequently move to C and C++.
Project on ScratchHow do you provide hardware support for the schools?
We have tied up with Dell and Lenovo. We procure hardware from these companies in bulk, which in turn give us very good discounts and free extended warranty. We pass on the same to schools and schools get a direct advantage. Our aim is to facilitate computer education. Hardware support includes setting up the entire class room, comprising of computers, interactive projectors, speakers and software which is required to support the learning. We install Open Source applications on these machines.What is your product roadmap?
Computer Masti has been transliterated in eight Indian languages and two foreign languages. The national languages being covered include Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Bengali and Kannada. The foreign languages being covered are Arabic and French. It has been an enriching journey to translate it to these many languages. We have included activities and look of character specific to languages. For Example 'Tejas' and 'Jyoti' have become 'Raunak' and 'Sarah' in Urdu.
We plan to cover four more India and five more foreign languages by 2015. This is how we plan to take the curriculum across different parts of India and the world.