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.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Met a talented child

Today we met a prodigious child who can narrate tables continuously up to 20 with so much ease. He does not know much three months before. He surprised all of us with his idiosyncratic way of helping 50 children rhyme tables, with his one eye closed, unnerved by the presence of many others who were just watching him. It filled our hearts, and made us reflect how systematic bad fortunes can never let such child appear before the world. It just strengthened our resolve that this initiative is worth all the cost and risks of the world.

It is up to i-Saksham now that such talents are not lost, and are done full justice.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Beautiful impact of digital pedagogy on children

It was heartening to find out how digital content is improving the learning outcome of poor children who could never read/write anything in English. However, they could rhyme in English.

The video shows how fluently they are narrating 'ABCD', and a few lines in English.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

An experience of first training session

We conducted first training session of the Community Tutor today. There were around 20 youths.
The session was demanded by the tutors, in the last meeting. We had planned for trainings, but the demand was a pleasant surprise. They wanted to improve their skills so that they can deliver quality learning. Where do we hear now a days such ownership in programs with social mandate?

 “Today’s training session was even more surprising. The tutors took charge of the training. They were the trainee and the trainers. We did minor facilitations, as and when needed. They shared problems, challenges and deliberated on solutions. Somewhere we realized we were not required to share the solutions. It came from them”, shares a local facilitator.

The biggest satisfying factor was their confidence in the idea and resolve to scale up. The testimonials on the improvement in learning attainment of children was encouraging enough to keep us going. “bache jab video se dekhte hai, to agle din bhi unko lessons yaad rehte hai”; “bachon ko isse padhne me itna maza aa raha hai ki wo khud home work complete kar ke late hai”; “agla video dekhne ke liye purane video me padhayi gayi cheezon ko ache se jaldi yaad kar lete hai”

They also discussed going to new villages and involve youth with i-Saksham. And we thought, how stupid a planned SCALEUP looks in front of this, natural, felt, growth. “

The trust we had in capability of the youth to take charge of their localities is strengthened. The hypothesis of providing right inputs and let them lead, is reinforced.

Some of the topics covered in training session include:
1.       Orientation about i-Saksham
2.       Digital pedagogy and integration with State Board Syllabus
3.       Challenges of Multi-grade teaching
4.       Values and Ethics of a teacher
5.       Managing Child Behaviour

Further, these youths were provided with training with basic lessons on computer and to type on MS word.

The event has strengthened our resolve to make i-Saksham big.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

i-Saksham in News

नक्सल प्रभावित जिले जमुई में लड़कियों को आत्मनिर्भर बनाने के लिए शिक्षा विभाग ने अनोखी पहल की है, इन बच्चियों को टैबलेट के साथ कंप्यूटर की शिक्षा दी जा रही है, इन्हें रेसिडेंशियल ब्रीज कोर्स के माध्यम से सौ लड़कियों को टैब के साथ पढ़ाया जा रहा है। गौर करनेवाली बात ये है कि इनमें से दर्जनों गांवों की लड़कियां कभी स्कूल नहीं गई।

The day when the idea of i-Saksham was cemented in our heads

These were our initial days in Jamui. We were perturbed with the situation of education in Jamui, specially the remote and difficult areas and were moving with computer education, slowly and unsure about where it would take us. The above interaction with Reeta strengthened our idea of technology making learning fun and engaging.

 Have penned down our first meeting with children at RBC Bela, Jamui, Bihar.

.................................None of them raised hands.
On that sweaty-shiny June, Shravan had asked the 100 odd girls from the deep tribal villages of District Jamui in Bihar a rather odd question. "How many of you have ever seen a computer"?
Rajneesh Ji, the Chief Caretaker for the Residential Bridge Course Centre at Bela smiled at us, half suspiciously and half mockingly (as if we were another set of aliens to get the photos clicked and prepare reports) and gave us the reality. "Most of them haven't seen even a radio, Sir".

Both of us didn't have a plan on how we would move ahead with such a group. These were a group of girls brought to the centre from the far-off villages situated in the hills bordering Jharkhand. Almost all of them were from the so called Naxal-influence zone, typically out of reach for government and its programs. They were learning to come to terms with Hindi from Santhali, their native language.
We switched on the laptop we were carrying and played Ice Age, the animation movie. The speakers were feeble and the language was alien (English with American accent and movie tones). However, the children related to the characters and within a while we were hearing out Santhali equivalents of Ice Age animals.

We paused the movie in the middle and asked, "do you want to see these movies?". The reply was as expected.

"Then you should learn computers", we tried to sell.

From that very day, these girls have kept surprising us with the learning potential they have. We are trying to fast-track their shift to formal schools, in a class commensurate to their age. And they are moving faster than their expectations.
See the video. For your information, Reeta and her friend is less than  5 months into education. So she has picked up letters, numbers and operations upon them, in these 5 months.
This proves our conviction that technology can help education in very creative and effective ways, especially in far off areas where you can find teachers.

We aspire to spread this leg of I-Saksham  into every such learning centre in Jamui, with or without government help.