The Kannada Pustaka project was developed with the intention of providing free audio textbooks in Kannada to students with blindness and visual impairment between Class 1 and 10. The project was started in September 2015 by Rakesh Tiwari who is a scientist at Leeds University in England, Shantala who is a teacher specialising in teaching science and math to students with blindness, and Ramesh Babu who is a multimedia expert. Since 2015, the project had been progressing at a slow pace, but, when the pandemic struck India in 2020, the founders accelerated the work understanding the necessity of such audio books.
Initially, at the start of the project, the founders intended to record these audio books with help from volunteers. However, this failed as the volunteers would make errors, rendering the audio books unusable. â€śWe recorded over 1,500 hours of audio when we started out, however, due to the errors made by the volunteers, such as improper pronunciation, we got only about 200-230 hours worth of usable audio,â€ť said Ramesh Babu.
It was after this that the founders turned to the use of technology. â€śWhen we realised that recording in a studio was not sustainable, we took help from PhD students from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and developed a text to speech (TTS) engine which we use now. The students have said that this is easier to understand and it so happens that it is also faster and cheaper to use technology than to record. With the current engine, we can create an audio file of a chapter within an hour, but earlier we would have spent much longer to record the same bit,â€ť Ramesh added.
The team has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Karnataka Textbook Society to gain access to their original textbook material to speed up the process. Currently, the project has successfully created a library with audio books of First Language Kannada, Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Social Science for Class 9 and 10. It also has chapters for second PU Kannada, History and Sociology. Students can listen to the audio textbooks for free at the Kannada Pustaka website or through Google Podcasts.
Ramesh Babu believes that this project will provide students with blindness and visual impairment the ability to study better. He also believes that the audio textbooks will help other students, as it is convenient to listen to the books whenever or wherever they want.
The team, according to Ramesh Babu, wants to further improve the TTS engine to make the voice less mechanical and more human-like. Also, the team intends to increase the library so that it caters to many more students of different classes and for this, the team is seeking help and funding.
One can visit their website to volunteer or donate.