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Demolishing the disconnect

Last updated: 28 January, 2011
Vijesh Kamath, Bangalore, January 28, DHNS: 23:03 IST

Israeli teacher develops mentoring system for rural teachers

Teachers, especially in rural areas of the State, can now look forward to using their cellphones as distance mentoring devices.

By combining individual phones with web technology, an Israeli mathematics professor on a year-long sabbatical at the International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore (IIIT-B), has developed ‘Mobile Gurukul,’ a learning platform that proposes to cater to mentoring of teachers in villages.

Prof Michal Yerushalmy, director of the Institute of Research of Alternatives on Education of the University of Haifa, along with her student at III-B, has come up with an ‘open community’ forum that allows teachers to pose queries on mathematics and science, besides issues of learning and teaching, through cellphones or landline phones. The service was launched last week.

A basic cellphone handset is all that a teacher needs. He or she has to send a voice SMS to 044-3088 8668/3088 8669 or text message to 08939960606. Voice messages, either in Kannada or English, are navigated through an interactive voice reply system. SMSes are sent from and directly stored on the server.

“It is basically a forum to overcome the digital divide and fill the vacuum in rural areas, created by lack of computers and power. We thought the mobile phone is a good platform as it is more easily available than computers,” Prof Yerushalmy, who has worked for over three decades in developing technologies in the field of mathematics education, told Deccan Herald.

The information sent by the teacher, voice or text, is displayed on mobilegurukul.org. Mentors then answer the queries of the teachers posted on the website, by recording their voice and sending it as a recorded message to the teacher. They can also text message the answer to the teacher’s cellphone. The third option is to directly call the phone number left by the teacher.

“We need more mentors. We have started approaching employees of IT companies to volunteer as mentors. We are also looking forward for a tie-up with the state government,” she says.

During her stay in India for the last 10 months, the professor has been regularly visiting a rural high school run by Ashraya, an NGO, for children from lower income sections at Neelbagh in Kolar district.

Here, she interacts with teachers to guide them on improving their pedagogical skills and mathematical ability. These interactions have also helped her understand the ground realities of school education in rural areas.

Yerushalmy believes that one learns better by asking questions. “Instead of applications that give you readymade answers, we need interactive technologies. The basic aim is to come out of the textbook mode,” Yerushalmy says.

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