Digital Education Content 0.101

01 May 2013

Education, K-12, ePub3, Interactive Content, ALL-IN, Opinion

It's May Day. Around there world there are celebrations, or at least days-off. Worker's rights. Yeah! Meanwhile back on Planet Earth in 2013 the worker's rights are probably about as screwed as they have ever been since fat Victoria squashed the throne of England.

It's May Day. Around there world there are celebrations, or at least days-off. Worker's rights'. Yah! RAH, Rah, rah!

Meanwhile back on Planet Earth in 2013 the worker's rights are probably about as screwed as they have ever been since fat Victoria squashed the throne of England.

I happen to believe that education is the solution to pretty much all the World's problems. I find it difficult to understand why any country—developed or developing—doesn't put 10%++ of their national budgets into education. Knowledge, the pursuit of knowledge and the exploitation of knowledge are arguable the difference between feudalism and the society the developed world had 40 years ago.

However we cannot despair at the rhetoric vs. reality dialogues on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. As Marie Antoinette might have said "Let them eat tweets". We know where she ended up!

Money, Pedagogy and Effort

We are working on a Math and Science library of HTML5/Javascript tools that extend the the ability to create interactive learning tools in any language. We are calling it the AZARDI Interactive Education Library (AIEL).

The objective is reasonably easy to create, use  and customize interactive modules covering dozens of general science, biology, chemistry, physics, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and statistics.  Reasonably easy is something Flash could never do comfortably so its' demise is timely even if Adobe is trying to replace it with look-a-like not-reasonably easy tool things.

The challenge is to remove the programming cost overhead of Apps and other clever proprietary approaches and make it pedagogue "friendly-ish", language neutal and publisher customizable. The first objective is hard, XHTML and Javascript makes the second objective trivial and the third objective is a sales pitch!

That means with AZARDI neutral content delivery content can be delivered to any platform or device. We even went to the trouble of creating the Apple version as a WebApp to stay away from the Apple arbitrary and evil IP theft machine.

The problem in this business is that traditional education publishers have "a revenue market focus"; and really don't understand the revenue opportunities in what is delightfully referred to as ROW (Rest Of the World) other than as a passing thought. They find it difficult to think about the World as a round thing with different languages upon it. Forget about different aspirational levels!

Therefore the AZARDI Education Interactive Library (AEIL) had to be been born.

The Educational Environment

The core list of curriculum subjects, topics and learning objectives is large; but it is finite due to the rigidity of syllabuses everywhere. However how it is taught has changed over the years.

The invisible hands of Paulo Freire is seriously alive in modern education in developing countries. At best he is presented as making a theoretical contribution with a rather patronizing analysis of his influence; as presented by educational narrators on, for example, Wikipedia. Here we can see his relevant developing world observations moved to a moneyed developed world analysis. It is a hopelessly wrong analysis. For example Singapore Maths is a different approach to maths and has gained significant credibility because it treats learners differently. (What is Singapore Math?)

We are in an time and place where the education challenges are changing faster than ever before.

I wrote a rather scathing opinion piece on Apple iBooks Publish a year or so ago on the old blog here. Things have not changed. If anything because of the iPad success in the USA it has become an even worse scenario. There are actually intelligent people putting an Apple brand message onto education content production and presentation. 

It seems impossible that intelligent adults can buy into this proprietary approach as the answer to national or world education. Where have they been in the last shifting 20 years? While this is of course enthusiastically supported by the unashamedly Manga/Apple/Adobe operated IDPF; the vendor neutral parts of specifications such as ePub3, or more importantly HTML5 (ePub Zero) are the answer. One thing is for certain. The IDPF have no interest in education content, and certainly not for the developing world. Their members think there is no money there!

One Rupee Per Person Per Day

When asked of my business goals in India I have always said I would like a business that generates Rs1 per Indian per day (Rs30 per month $0.60) (and delivers matching value). That is Rs1,200,000,000  or around US$22,300,000 per day.

OK, that is a miserable $8.1Billion per annum, probably not worth the effort! The problem is we small businessmen think so damn small!

As education content developers for developing markets it is necessary to understand that people will give you Rs1.00 per day if they see a tangible outcome that improves their lives and more importantly, that of their children. So rather obviously there are a lot of education con-job businesses that are very successful over here, and doubtless in other developing countries.

For all the goodwill in the world, brilliant, wonderful, free educational resources like Khan Academy have an invisible curse attached to them. No certificate!

The fact is what makes someone valuable in society, as judged today, is quite simply a certificate of some sort. That is what gets a job. (HR Script: What is your qualification?) That is what gives at least some money.

So real publishers of real vetted and controlled content still have a very, very serious role in education content irrespective of the self-publishing noise. Vetted, controlled, published, accredited content is worth paying for. Stuff on the Internet, regardless of the value and quality is worth, well, maybe the bandwidth download cost... maybe not even that.

What is significantly sad (to a grumpy old me) is that Indian companies promote the "low-cost labour" thing (I avoid the word "cheap") that makes lights sparkle in the eyes of "Western businesses". They artificially promote the skills and capabilities of their workers because they think they can always "hire" the requirement from the market. They can't. The education machine isn't working well enough from deep enough.

The fact is the IT market in India is incredibly finite. 2-3 Million very average IT workers. It should be 10-20M workers, but the education and training systems just simply do not exist to deliver. And India is regarded as a country at the leadership end of the outsourcing business. Apparently modern business sees the cost of everything and the value of nothing (unless it is tweeted).

But where I stand an Apple phone looks like every other phone. An iPad is a clumsy clump of glass and aluminium stuff I don't want.

Aspect Ratio and Size

HUGE PREDICTION: Educational content is going to be delivered to the developing world on 5.5-7in big-pocket devices in 16:9 aspect ratio. The age of Samsung has arrived. It is their business model and not Apple's that will get the mass developing world market educated. Apple is an amusing sideshow for those who can afford to feed their children, own a car and a house and talk patronizingly about the other 80%. The hungry don't even  know or care who Apple is. More importantly real people cannot afford to be locked into a control environment that costs so much more than the value delivered.

Samsung is not actually trying to compete with Apple (except as an American press sideshow). The 5.5-6" device is derigueur where I stand. It replaces the TV, the tablet, the phone. It is the connection with the world and some sort of future for my brother and sister. 

Moving Ahead

The InDesign, Apple frenzy that occupies the posts and tweets in popular digital content production publishing will no doubt remain as InDesign experts "regex" their stuff.

The business partners I am dealing with in China, India, the Philippines and other countries are constantly confused by this Adobe/Apple fan-club noise machine. They find it hard to get their noses out of those money crotches and developed country business models. I have heard some astoundingly naive - perhaps hopeful - statements on this subject recently. The publishing businessmen lack the understanding of the value that must be delivered to the target audiences and completely confuse the consumer requirements with hopeful interpretations of western content models dropped on the heads of bemused, wary and cynical users.

Interestingly Amazon is not even a contender in these markets no matter how they discount because their commoditization of content doesn't allow association with marketable certifications that result in employment.

So we move steadily ahead. In mass developing markets Android has won already thanks to the International vision of Samsung's understanding of the "under the radar" user. We have to address Android multi-platform, multi-aspect-ratio and multi-screen size quirks (or options) to address the widest user-base.

We move forward developing platform-neutral Javascript solutions for the math and science K-12 curriculum with the flexibility of Localization and Internationalization so they can be used by publishers everywhere, in ever language, and at the lowest possible production costs. Yes that even includes the massive minority that use, and will use Apple products into a somewhat interesting near future.

The engagement experience has to be platform neutral, and pro-learner, with perceivable value. No proprietrary flavours about it.

If you are interested in the AZARDI Interactive Education Library. Give us a call.

An opinion Piece by Richard Pipe


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