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Ahead of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States, the Union Cabinet has approved the signing of a Joint Declaration of Intent between the HRD Ministry and the U.S. Department of State for co-operation on the former’s upcoming Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platform SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) that is expected to launch by the end of this year.

As part of this initiative, US universities will be invited to offer post-graduate academic programs with certification on the SWAYAM platform that will be based in India. Dubbed as Indo-US Partnership for Online Education (IUPOE) programme, this will apparently enable top universities in the United States (top 100 in global ranking) to create and share post graduate online courses on SWAYAM platform. However, the government hasn’t disclosed any specific information on which American universities will be participating in this programme.

Aakash Integration? What’s interesting here is that this program will apparently be integrated to HRD Ministry’s National Mission on Education through Information & Communication Technology (NME-ICT) programme. Hence, its possible that these courses will be preloaded on the next version of the Aakash tablet which also comes under the same programme.

However, Aakash tablet’s future itself is uncertain at the moment. The fourth generation of Aakash tablet, which was considered as the baby project of the former telecom minister Kapil Sibal, was expected to be out in April this year. A PTI report from July had also suggested that recently IPO’d Datawind had been selected for supplying Aakash 4, however there hasn’t been any further updates on this.

That being said, Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani had mentioned last month that NMEICT had three major components – content generation, providing connectivity to universities & colleges (through its Campus Connect initiative) and research & development of a low cost access device. Hence, there is possibly still hope for Aakash tablet.

SWAYAM launch

Following the Finance Minster Arun Jaitley’s proposal of setting up of virtual classrooms and online courses for school education during the Union budget in July this year, the Union HRD Ministry had initiated its Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) program ‘SWAYAM’ earlier this month.

Under this program, Professors of centrally funded institutions like, IITs, IIMs and Central Universities were expected to offer online courses through SWAYAM platform that will be accessible by all Indians free of cost. Learners could also request for a verified certificate for a small fee.

In the first phase, IIT Bombay, IIT Chennai, IIT Kanpur, IIT Guwahati, University of Delhi, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, IGNOU, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, and Banaras Hindu University were expected to offer courses in areas such as engineering, social science, energy, management, and basic sciences among others.

Note that, the previous government had also launched an open repository for school education called National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) in August last year. This platform claims to offer concept maps, videos, audio clips, audio books, multimedia, learning objects, photographs, diagrams, charts, articles, wikipages and textbooks for all grades in multiple languages. Last month, the HRD ministry had claimed that the NROER portal had received over 45 lakh hits from 71,447 unique visitors, and that it had 13,773 registered users and contributors of e-content.

National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) had also launched a new e-learning course in association with IIT and IISc in March this year.