Sunday Sentiments: The Full Story

The Sangai Express – February 8, 2012

School Chalein Hum

“Nation are made in classrooms”

I see a miracle unfold right in front of me in the humble government school where the only remarkable thing you will not miss is the brilliance of the children who study here. With a meager strength of just 231 students, out of which 90 fall in the category of standard 6-8, I see the miracle when I see the small faces light up and the crooked teeth flash in a smile as the faculty puts an animated MS Power point presentation of a poem called “Govina Balu” on the computer from their Kannada text book which simply put means “How the cow is helpful to man”, and cites about its various uses. I actually find myself smile too looking at the cow and the amusing movements it makes. The poem from the text has been sung as in a rhyme. A poem that would have been on the two dimensions of a book now comes alive on the computer screen. The cow is braying. The farm looks real. The woman is busy husking. The man in the farm is milking the cows. The children are drinking milk. The sound clip of the cow’s braying, the chirping of the birds in the farm, the crying of the infant, the ordinary conversation of the man and woman, the folk song sung while husking- all make the poem so real. It is as if the students in the classroom have traveled in a time machine and from here have transcended to that farm, among the cows and in the courtyard of that farm house. Is there even a comparison between such advanced delivery versus the conventional way of the teacher reading the text aloud while students look at the text in their books with half of their minds wandering outside the window.

For someone who doesn’t even know Kannada, I ended up remembering the first two lines!! That was the impact of this classroom activity. The students have an excellent learning experience. What’s most amazing is children who are known to have a short attention span get engaged in a positive way. Be it a poem in Kannada, a Math table, an equation, lessons of Geography or History, this kind of computer-aided learning ensures a better understanding , grasping and learning. It optimizes the use of computers and the internet in aiding education. It broadens the student’s perspective.

This computer aided learning in government primary high schools is an intervention of the American India Foundation (AIF) known by the name Digital Equalizer Programme with the sole and focused vision of capacitating schools and their faculty to be able to use computers as a tool for enhancing other learning in all the subjects taught as part of the curriculum. American India Foundation takes computer aided education to a section of our society which would have never got it otherwise- the very poor. Children whose parents are below the poverty line, the daily wage earners, study in these schools where they don’t have to pay fees, even books, bags and uniform are for free. The children get one free meal while in the school from a government programme called the Mid Day Meal.

Of the nearly 1 million government schools in India, less that 0.2% have any form of IT infrastructure or computer based education. What’s more computers are taught as a subject in the classrooms with other subjects and this can’t really be considered as IT enabled education. American India Foundation is committed to capacitate maximum number of government schools to be able to use computers and the internet for standard 6 and above, as a tool to teach all the subjects to students be it Maths, English, History, Kannada, Geography, Science, Social Studies. It does so by giving trainings to the faculty of the government schools and students through project- based learning techniques. The programme is tightly integrated with the school curriculum thereby improving the subject matter expertise through the use of technology. It would not be limited to just focusing on the teachers who teach Computer Science in the school but to all the teachers in the school. This is because at primary level most teachers end up teaching all the subjects. These teachers are taught the basics of computers like MS Office and how to use the internet. They are also trained on the different ways they can use computer and the internet in the classroom and make their lessons interesting.

American India Foundation programme runs in 213 schools all across Karnataka and in the country so far its impacted 2054 schools, trained 24,000 teachers and educated 7,50,000 children. In the project school computer room acts as the Digital Equalizer Centre. Computers in 13 of the 213 schools have been supported entirely by the American India Foundation while in the remaining 200 schools the State Government has provided the computers while AIF extends capacity building of the faculty and monitors their progress of the programme all through out the academic year, and for a period of 3 years for that particular school.

A teacher who has benefited from the Digital Equalizer Programme in Pappaya Reddy Higher Primary School, Rathnamma , 50 years says in her entire teaching career she has never been as happy as the time when she won the Annual Teacher’s Contest in Bangalore for a project she had done to help student’s with their subject using computers and internet.I found a very enthusiastic grass root worker in Eshwari, 23 years, a sweet Kannidiga girl hailing from Chitradurgha in Karnataka who has given four years of her youth to this education programme. She travels extensively within Bangalore to monitor the progress of the programme in the project schools. An excellent trainer herself , what moves me the most is her enthusiasm and the sheer love of what she does. In an age when most of her peers are after corporate settings and a fat salary she is a fresh breath among the ordinary.

I shake hands with Eshwari, some teachers from the school, wave my hand to the students who wave back happily, carry my camera and my hatch bag and turn away from Pappaya Reddy Primary High School to catch a bus home. I think about how development agencies like the American India Foundation impact the society and give a hope for the hopeless. And I think how important that is.

From these government schools may come our leaders of tomorrow-men and women who would take our nation to great heights. If the 73% of India who live in villages are capacitated by development agencies like this, one day this 73% will begin to contribute to our leadership and the think tank. And then there is no stopping us. And we can’t really think that this will not affect us because we would have lived our lives by then. Perhaps our children will live their youth in that time.

I carry the noise from the classroom in my heart and I sense that I could have today met someone in these classrooms who would be important tomorrow.

** This is a part of a five-article series I wish to do with an attempt to showcase certain areas of social development-IT enabled education of the marginalized; care of the elderly; rescue and rehabilitation of the street children and their rights; Science education of children from rural India. I have tried to follow the best NGOs in the country which work on these specialized domains.

I am certain we will take inspiration from what’s happening in the rest of the country. And see that development has not just one route but several.
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