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Learning in Pune rural zilla parishad schools gets tech boost Learning in Pune rural zilla parishad schools gets tech boost

Jun-29-2015 | 0 Comments

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PUNE: On a hot Friday afternoon, Chaitanya Nikte, a Class VII student in Hinjewadi's zilla parishad primary school, listens with rapt attention as L Michhelle, an American education media expert sitting in Florida, asks him about his latest class test. Watching her on the large screen in his school's computer lab, Chaitanya and his classmates observe how differently she speaks English as she talks about the importance of performing well in school.

The students nod their heads in understanding as their teacher explains what Michhelle is trying to convey. Soon after the video call ends, Chaitanya tries, not too unsuccessfully, to imitate her accent, drawing applause from his fellow classmates and teacher alike.

Away from the din of urban chaos, yet not too far away from the city, the future of thousands of children studying in ZP schools in Maan and Hinjewadi villages is being moulded with a new outlook. New teaching methodologies which combine technology, the internet and volunteer efforts of the flourishing corporate neighbours are ensuring that the students can now learn the same topics better.

Audiovisual presentations, e-learning kits, global classrooms that connect the children with subject experts sitting anywhere in the world and even better-trained teachers are increasing the enrolment in these schools, teachers say.

Apsara Bagwan, a Class VIII student in Hinjewadi's zilla parishad primary school, aspires to be a district collector when she grows up. Her ambition was fuelled in a "global classroom", where an expert on social responsibility guided students on the importance of interacting with fellow citizens to empathise with their problems and bring about change.

The other classes Apsara attended — conducted by engineers, poets and English language experts — and the confidence she gained from participating in these interactions, reinforced her belief in her own capabilities.

Launched in July last year, the global classroom is among the popular new facilities for teacher empowerment and all-round quality improvement in education in rural schools. The idea is simple — to connect students to experts located all over the world to bring about a virtual interaction, thus expanding the boundaries of a classroom to global dimensions.

An initiative of the eLearning Media Network of Professionals, it helps provide global exposure to rural students, thus improving their communication skills, understanding of academic concepts and the ability to share thoughts and reflect on their own skills. Moreover, it also helps motivate and empower the teachers in these schools to conduct their classes better.

Implemented in 25 rural ZP schools in Maharashtra already, the initiative has enabled students to connect either virtually or through face-to-face interactions with almost 500 Indian and international subject matter experts, including artists, scientists, technologists and academicians. Science expert Sudhir Kumbhar, environmentalist Makarand Tillu, mathematician Ravindra Yeole, English-speaking expert Anagha Natekar, Sanskrit guru Dhanunjaya Sastri, scientist Anand Ghaisas are a few among the host of speakers.

Schoolteachers are all praise for the initiative. Deepali Lokhande says, "A session on scientific experiments helped our students actually see what they had only read about in their textbooks. Their interest in science has since increased."

Teacher Jyoti Davane credits the global classroom for the increased enrolment in the school this year. "The perspective of society towards our school has changed," she says.

Santosh Talghatti, the man behind the project, is the proverbial pied piper, attracting students by the droves whenever he visits the school. "With books, you can only learn as much as the pages offer. But there is no end to possibilities in a global classroom. It becomes the ladder to do things better and I have seen the outlook of students change. Now, they just need a little push in the right direction and they can compete with any of their contemporaries," he says.

E-learning kits are another popular teaching aid, currently in use at several rural schools, including the Maan zilla parishad primary school. These schools supplement conventional pen-and-paper learning with attractive graphics, audio and visuals.

Equipped with the complete syllabus of important subjects for Classes I to X of the state board curriculum, besides topics on astronomy, grammar, career guidance and competitive exam material, the kits are usable in both English and Marathi. The kits installed on high-grade computers and used in rotation for all classes in the computer lab with the help of a projector. Lessons are followed by quizzes and tests conducted in the form of games.

The kits were provided to the Maan ZP school in March by 'Sparsh - A Healing Touch', the corporate social responsibility arm of Infosys Pune DC, to make learning enjoyable.

The kits have also inspired teachers to update their methodologies. Teacher Sharda Nikam says, "The children are absorbing and retaining topics faster and better. Very little explanation is required as the visuals help them grasp the topics. Attendance in school is better, as is the attention span of students."

Sujata Chandekar, member of the core committee of 'Sparsh - A Healing Touch', says, "At the Maan school, we wanted to impart more than what the typical syllabus offers, without burdening the children. Volunteers from Infosys Pune employees also visit the school to guide students on various subjects."

Students' response to the kits has been very positive, says Anmol Khopade, trustee of the organisation.

In another initiative in several rural schools near Pune, the Hole-in-the-Wall Education Project (HiWEP) of the NIIT Foundation is helping bridge the urban-rural divide of computers and technology. Typically housed on the boundary walls of schools, playgrounds or community buildings, HiWEP learning stations reach out to practically everyone on the other side of the wall — in-school and out-of-school children, adolescents and adult community members.

Users, often in groups of two to five, learn to use the keyboard, mouse, productivity tools, search engines and emails, simultaneously gaining knowledge on how to leverage the internet, preloaded age-specific resources on life skills as well as curriculum-based content. This content includes "edutainment" games, and the encyclopaedia, along with critical information on health and hygiene.

NIIT Foundation Sapnaa Moudgil says, "The way the children take to the station has to be seen to be believed. They are free to touch buttons, enjoy the visuals and explore technology independently. It's helping them learn on their own in a fun way."

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