Recently, 16 Indian Education Institutes were ranked among the top 200 institutes in the list of Times Higher Education BRCIS and Emerging Economies. On this feat C. Raj Kumar, the founding ice chancellor of the OP Jindal Global University rightly commented, “Rankings are not the end but a means to start deliberations for a road map for becoming globally competitive and more accountable.” However, such lists do act as an indicator of where we stand as a collective, as a nation, which seeks to make its mark in a rapidly changing world through education.
The list, while giving us much hope for the state of advanced education in the country, seems to shadow a graver issue which continues to plague India despite it continuously being hailed as the ‘fastest growing economy of the world’- the condition of its government schools and lower bodies of education.
The Right To Education Act and Government Schools
RTE (Right To Education) Act implemented in the year 2009 stipulated free and compulsory education for all children between an age gap of 6 and 14 years. The main goal of the act is to achieve 100% literacy rate across the country and increase awareness. This goal has proven to be lofty at best as reports reveal that only 11% of expenditure in the field of education is bore by the private sector, leaving majority of the responsibilities on the government. Furthermore, a survey conducted in 780 Government Schools across 13 Indian States revealed that the schools lack in key facilities like drinking water and toilets. The survey further showed that while the RTE Act called for a proper infrastructure, less than 5% schools have all the 9 facilities mentioned in the Act. Over 30% schools had no toilets (many girls quote this has a big reason for dropping out of school) and over 60% had no playgrounds.
In a more alarming survey conducted in 2007 in rural India (across 16,000 villages) it was shown that while class enrolments were high, the quality of education and delivery mechanism were low on impact. Most of the students could not read, write or do basic maths. At this juncture, Microsoft India, realizing the precarious nature of the problem decided to floor an initiative, a project which they labelled as ‘Project Shiksha’ which uses as its backbone the tool that has christened Microsoft as a pioneer-technology.
Project Shiksha – an effort by Microsoft towards innovative learning
Project Shiksha, a YouthSpark initiative is Microsoft’s effort to equip educators in government schools with IT skills so that they can deliver quality education to millions of students across the country. It is due to this project that many children in Bihar’s government schools, hitherto accustomed to parroting their lessons, are now learning lessons through digital classes, power-point presentations and video and audio sessions.
The project was launched in Bihar in 2008 in conjunction with the state government. More than 4,000 government schoolteachers have been trained in info-tech skills, impacting more than 13 lakh students across the state. Microsoft India launched the project in India in 2003. More than 6 lakh government schoolteachers have been equipped with IT skills so far across the country. Besides Bihar, Microsoft India has partnered with states like Maharashtra, Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.
Lessons made easy-the success stories
Though there was initial reluctance from the trainees, they managed to accrue substantial benefit from it and since then, success stories have swept the team in a deluge.
Take Raghavendra Rao’s case for example. A teacher at Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya School for rural children in Andhra Pradesh, he dreamt of imparting quality education to his students and engross them in biology lessons.
While training under Project Shiksha, Raghavendra became passionate about the use of ICT. Soon he started using simple multimedia tools like Office Powerpoint and Windows Live Movie Maker that he learnt during his training to make videos that help bring the wonders of the local flora and fauna into the classroom.
What is more exciting about Project Shiksha is that Raghavendra’s story is not singular-the states are teeming with their own anecdotes about innovative learning and its impact.
Firoz Khan, who is a teacher at the Primary School Chidawak, Gulaothi, Bulandshahar, Uttar Pradesh, went on to create www.chemistrymystery.com, a content rich and interactive website with a pool of learning resources where students can explore chemistry through animation, games, and quizzes after his training.
His reason for undertaking the training was his desire to find better learning methods for his students than he had been exposed to as a child.
He recounts, “When I was young and teachers used to teach me, at that time there was only the blackboard, teachers and some books”. After becoming a teacher, he realised that his students straddle with the same difficulties that he did as a child-the problem of grasping basic concepts, mired with thoughts like, “whether the Earth was round like a ‘Chapati’ (flat) or round like a ‘ball’”.
Some have been handsomely rewarded and recognised for their efforts. Himanshu Shekhar of a Phulwarisharif school went on to win the Innovative Technology Leadership Awards- 2009. He used flash animations and power-point presentations to make learning more “interesting”.
It cannot be denied that when it comes to using technology for teaching children, we are still beset with dread. It is this same dread that initially hindered many from embracing this project. However, once they took the plunge, they emerged much more confident and equipped with several new skills. “Initially I thought the training was a waste of time and efforts,” admitted Saif Haidar, a mathematics teacher at Government Girls’ High School, Bankipore. After completing his training in September 2011, he gained renewed confidence, commenting that “teaching complex subjects such as geometry and trigonometry with the help of power-point presentations is more effective”.
Being the “fastest growing economy” in a fast changing world comes with its own set of responsibilities and expectations which can often prove to be overwhelming. It demands agility and swiftness-a kind of swiftness that can perhaps only be achieved through a clever utilisation of technology. The reluctance to make use of it needs to be dispelled, together with the notion that ‘technology’ is something that is strictly for the use of those who work at IT Parks in the cities. Technology is for the masses and more importantly, technology is for making lives better.
Project Shiksha in its essence seeks to impart this lesson solely. It does this so that several can embrace it and in their turn, adapt this learning into interesting classroom lessons for the future minds of the world to enjoy.
To know more about Project Shiksha, watch this video.