Rising above limitations

Today’s children are tomorrow’s future,” so goes the saying. It is the teacher who shapes these future citizens, every day. Watching the Geography session of Class VIII at a government school in the suburbs of Bengaluru can help one understand how these young minds hold the future in their little hands and how teachers are facilitating the process, with the help of appropriate interventions.

The chapter is ‘Earthquake’ and the medium of instruction is Kannada. Radha, a teacher, uses an app to help children visualise the topic. As many as 30 pairs of eyes are converged to the projector screen where she illustrates the types of earthquakes, various terms associated with it, the instrument used to record its intensity, etc. Practical examples with apt, colourful pictures and videos are shown through slides. Time and again, the children are challenged with questionnaires and activities, again through slides and videos, which motivate them to think logically, and at the end, they are shown slides that elucidate the correct answers. When asked what happens if there is an earthquake under the sea, the children, enthusiastically, through a series of bridging responses, come to the right answer – tsunami. 

And by the end of the 40-minute session, the teacher has analysed the theme with more than 60 slides that are designed as per the Karnataka State Board curriculum. All the while, the students were given a better insight into the topic, adding more value to the lesson than the conventional methods. The teaching mechanism gets more interesting and interactive here. The teacher finds the Meghshala app user-friendly and helpful to pass on the information. This is one of the 250 schools in the state where teachers have become master teachers leading the class effectively.  

School on the cloud

Developed by an educational organisation, Meghshala, the app is one way of helping teachers adapt to the changing times and facilitating better learning outcomes. The schools get a ‘teach kit’ which comprises a tablet with the app and a projector. The app is aligned to the Karnataka State Board syllabus and comprehensively incorporates English, Social Studies, Math and Science subjects, chapter-wise, for classes I to VIII. All essential aspects of a chapter within the scope of the syllabus are meticulously compiled with the purpose of making learning a gratifying experience. To make the classrooms livelier for the tiny tots, subject-related rhymes and songs have also been included.

For teachers, there is a description of the objective behind learning a particular topic, how to distribute time for different sections of the chapter, what activities to conduct during the class and the like. “I find it beneficial for Social Studies and Science lessons, but in Math and English classes we use the blackboard along with the app,” says a  teacher. Ultimately, it is at the liberty of the teacher to use a certain mode.

Meghshala, or school on the cloud, has around 40 members in its team who are involved in content designing and implementation, apart from their field associates, working in 13 districts. All of them have hands-on experience in teaching, which makes their concepts highly applicable. They can even track the usage of the app by teachers whom they encourage to give constant feedback to ensure further improvisation. Besides the Meghshala app, they have standalone programmes in English language and phonics that help students to read, write and converse in English efficiently. “Meghshala has a sense of urgency in providing access to world-class education to all learners. This makes the empowerment of teachers a clear and present necessity. Without empowered teachers, how will a society tip the fortunes of education in the right direction?” asks Jyothi Thyagarajan, founder trustee of Meghshala.

Another organisation with a similar outlook, The Children’s Lovecastles Trust (CLT), is focused on creating quality resources for classrooms, teachers and students. What started as a mid-day meal programme in 1998 has conceptualised into e-Patashale. The effort delivers content through efficient technology models to more than 3,000 schools in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. “Recently, we have reached out to Jammu and Kashmir,” says Sudhanva Rajashekara of CLT.

Their gadget is a seamless plug-and-play device that is user-friendly and can be run on television or a projector. It incorporates the Karnataka State Board and National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) curriculum of Science, Math and English grammar for classes V to X. The chapter-wise curriculum is fragmented into concepts that are enhanced with videos and e-textbooks. Furthermore, the cognitive ability of the student is ascertained via application-based questions. Also included are the teaching and discussion points which make the task easier for teachers. Overall, learning is made interesting, interactive, and comprehensible for students.

“There is additional information in the e-content so that teachers need not use reference books. In Science, live experiments are shown in videos. In Math, there are more problems to solve. In English grammar, more examples and exercises are given. It is easy for us to teach and children understand well,” says Prabudeva, vice principal of Government High School, Jakkur. The school has been using the learning tool for the last three years.

Enriching experience

The teachers associated with Dhwani, an educational resource centre based in Dharwad, cannot stop describing their fruitful association with it. Dhwani aspires to refine the quality of teaching by enriching the teachers, mainly of rural government schools. Here, teachers undergo a two-level training — Aarambha (for classes I to IV) and Poorna (for classes V to VII). “Training sessions are held twice a year over a period of three years and the only qualification we expect is the teachers’ commitment for the cause,” states Shivananda Hombal, an educator who heads Dhwani.

Some teachers have been associated with the centre for more than 10 years. Their major focus is on Kannada language and Social Studies, and their approach is theme-based and practical. For instance, history teachers are taken on workshops to heritage monuments where they explore and experience various styles of architecture on their own. Explanations and discussion from an academic perspective follow, to help them connect their understanding with the curriculum. 

While teaching Kannada grammar, an experiential approach is preferred over the mundane. Apart from these, they have a good collection of resources and have developed interactive exercises to engage the teachers and students.

For the teachers, they provide reading material, impart Kannada subtitles to Ted talks, nurture their language and soft skills, and conduct discussions and seminars on education-related issues.

Many more individual and group-based activities are also held on a regular basis. For children, resource materials in the form of storybooks, creative activities and workbooks which promote logical thinking and induce problem-solving ability are given. “The materials primarily focus on learning through play,” states Chaudamma, a teacher.

Also, story-reading sessions are conducted wherein children keenly participate and slowly develop a liking towards reading. Since 2006, about 1,600 teachers have been empowered by Dhwani and over 11,500 teachers and 1,45,000 children have availed the resource materials.  

While these interventions have empowered hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers across the state, there are numerous others that are waiting for an opportunity. Though there is a long way to go, the lamps have been lit. 

  • learning
  • teaching