Friday, August 7, 2015

Story of an i-saksham entrepreneur- By Aman Bharadwaj, PMRDF

                Near the blurred boundary of urban Jamui, on the highway joining Munger, there lies a village Khairma. At the door of a green painted house of the village, children had lined up to enter. Tanuj stopped our motorbike there. This house was the first place where tablet PCs, loaded with digital material for primary schoolchildren, were given to community tutors (called Saksham mitras) by i-saksham team. Except on sundays, children came here daily with their books and notebooks clutched in their armpits. In the room next to the front room of the house, they sat on the mat on the floor. The one and half hour classes used tablets for forty five miuntes to one hour. The usually class went from 6:30 to 8:00 in the morning.
                Tanuj entered into the room and introduced me to Mamata. I followed.
                22 years old Mamata, the saksham mitra, has been an inspirational figure among children. Since her earliest memory, her feet were thin, weak and unable to support her body weight. She doesn't have any memory of walking. She studied upto class eight in the local middle school, but it took her a lot to convince her family members to continue it upto tenth. She matriculated in 2007 and after exerting continuous pressure on her family, she could enroll herself in intermediate in 2009. She took Political science, history and sociology as subjects and finished it in 2012. Since then, she has been tutoring children. Most of the children she teaches now study in class 1-5, but she feels the digital content promising to enable her to tutor higher classes soon.
                In the morning class, there were around twenty-five students, mostly girls enrolled in local government school. The chatter of the students continued until Mamata entered into the room. Mamata crawled up to the cot and hopped on the cot.
“Everyone, Show me your homeworks!”, she announced.
Children stopped their giggles and came to her with their notebooks, one by one. After receiving few ticks and crosses on their copies they returned back to their seats. Some smiled; some were sad. After checking the notebooks, Mamata turned on an electronic device, a tablet PC, that has been an object of excitement among students.
                'Today, we will study the chapter 'Vikram-the wise king' ' Mamata said. 'Vikram-the wise king', the chapter from an English book of class IV. Though the constant avoidance of English by teachers (school and tuition teachers alike) has turned English into a nightmare for the students, Mamata has taken on the challenge with the help of technology.
                She picks up and turns the tablet on. Several videos of class chapters have been recorded and put in the tablet along with few educational games by i-Saksham team. Browsing through folders, she clicks on an icon, 'Vikram-the wise king'. The video starts playing. This whole chapter has been narrated and explained in the local language in the video by Shravan Jha, i-saksham member. With few moments of turning on the device, every kind of sound vanishes from the class. The small device takes hold of the reins of attention of all children. The video runs for ten minutes.
'Now tell, What this story is about?', Mamata asks.
A rush of excitement covers the children. Many children speak, in high voices, to be heard, with different answers.
'One by one.', she said.
There were some confused faces too. Looking at them, The video was again played and stopped at few points for detailed elaboration. Mamata read out the chapter slowly as per their comfort.
                Now, the whole class was able to answer the questions. After teaching them the chapter, she asked the students to note down a paragraph from the book.
She looked at me.
'The test-scores of the children have improved after I started teaching them using the tablets', she said with a smile.
'How else do you use it?', I asked pondering if she was creatively using the device.
'In many ways. Sometimes, I let weaker children play games of mathematics and english words. Daily, for fifteen minutes, at the end of the class, I form a group of seven and let them play Word Swipe' She replies.
'What is word swipe?'
'It is a word game where children search the names of fruits, animals, places, etc., from an array of words.
'Good. Are the kids learning?'
'Yes. The weakers ones have become fast in calculation and fast ones faster.'
'Good, you should screen children movies on it sometimes.'
'We do. On saturdays. Last week, we showed them 'How to train your dragon' (the hindi dubbed version).', Mamata says with a smile.
I smiled, too.
Mamata drags herself inside. It was after getting tea I discovered she had gone inside to ask her sister to prepare tea for us.
                From the classroom, I called few students. They are: Arti, Neha, Anjana and Seema. I asked them mathematics tables and few questions from another story 'Three wishes of Meena', (a hindi story on sanitation awareness from class IV). To my surprise, they were able to answer every question. Some more children gathered around and giggle.
Mamata entered.
'Go back to your seats', I said.
All kids returned to their places.
'So, the tablet has benefitted you?' I asked.
'The kids are learning faster. Now, I teach English, Mathematics easily. Also, the number of kids has increased. So, increase in income.'
I smiled and rephrased my question, 'No, I meant, do you learn anything from tablet?'
'As I am unable to go outside, I spend my time on this. Sometimes, I use internet on it, but it is not working on this new tablet.'
Tanuj, the i-saksham volunteer accompanying me, took the tablet from her and checked.
'We'll replace it with a different tablet by tomorrow.', he said in assuring voice.
'If something more could be uploaded on this, it would be easy for me to learn something.'
'We will see what can be done.' I said with a promising emphasis.
A little girl, perhaps one of her students, came with a tray in her hand.
'Sir, please take tea.', Mamata said.
'It was not needed.', We took along with saying this.
I looked at the watch. Quite a time had passed.
'Mamata, it must have taken a great deal of determination and courage for you to continue your studies in this environment.' I asked after knowing that the locality didn't encourage girls' education a few years back.
'Yes, sir. Then, it was difficult. Now, it has been easy.'
'Were you inspired by someone?'
'Not as such.'
'No, I meant, any friend, any teacher, any relative or anyone.'
'A teacher from the neighborhood used to motivate me. His belief in me made me trust myself.', a confidence rests on her voice.
'What does he do now?'
'He still teaches.'
I looked at the watch again.
'Ok Mamata. I will tell them about the need of the content.', I said, referring to my friends.
                We rose from the four-legged bed, waved good bye to the kids and walked out of the room. While departing, I saw a smile on her face. She began to teach mathematics. In the moments when Tanuj started off the bike, few thoughts ran in my mind: the quick answers of the children, the wonder of technology that made the good education reach Mamata, the barriers being overcome, technology making the learning too interesting for children. A sense of wonder filled me. Technology bringing good education at the doors of community, in a way that interested children, was no less than a revolution in embryo.
                The bike started and soon the peace of village was pushed aside by the blazing horns of the trucks on the highway. I too started thinking of opening an i-saksham center in my neighborhood.

Probably, Mamata had inspired me too.

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