The big news in technology Wednesday was the announcement that India introduced a new tablet computer that is the world’s smallest and least expensive — costing $35. But just as important as the progress in small computer development is who the first beneficiaries will be.

The computer’s developer is is selling the Aakash, or “sky,” to the Indian government for about $45, and in turn the government will sell it to students for about $35, the Associated Press reported. The Aakash has a seven-inch color screen and provides word processing, Web browsing and video conferencing.

The idea is to provide students with technology to help them get an education that will lift them out of poverty. Since India gained independence from Britain in 1947, literacy has risen from 12 percent to nearly 80 percent — and that has been linked to growth in the country’s economy.

Still, fewer than 10 percent of citizens graduated from high school in 2008, and more than half of college professors lacked a degree higher than a bachelor’s, Newsweek reported. And, according to Economic Watch, as many as 400 million of the nation’s 1.2 billion Indians live on less than $2 a day.

The AP quoted Kapil Sibal, India’s human resources development minister, as saying: “This is not just for us. This is for all of you who are disempowered. This is for all those who live on the fringes of society.”

The country’s Human Resources Development Ministry is the U.S. equivalent of the Education Department. Its Department of School Education and Literacy handles formal and non-formal primary education and the development of literacy among the country’s population. Its Department of Higher Education handles secondary and post-secondary education.

The computer is wireless, which could make it difficult for students to use if they aren’t near a wireless hot spot.

It was developed and manufactured jointly by the Indian Institute of Technology, Rajasthan at Jodhpur and Canada-based DataWind Ltd., a developer of wireless Web access products and services.

Education for children from the ages of 6 to 14 is compulsory and free in India.

As of 2008, India’s post-secondary high schools offer only enough seats for 7 percent of India’s college-age population; 25 percent of teaching positions nationwide are vacant; and 57 percent of college professors lack either a master’s degree or doctorate.

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