Back in 2012, during a trip to my village in India, I had the chance to interact with many enthusiastic kids who were eager to learn math from me. I did whatever was possible to do in two days to help them, but that time was too short to be of assistance to even one child, let alone so many of them. But I understood something about the school system and the issues these kids were facing within that system. It was quite apparent to me that even the most inquisitive kids in my village were getting frustrated and disengaged from school. Among various shortcomings, the most important was the inability of these underprivileged kids in remote areas to get access to high quality educational content and competent teachers.
Around that time, I was privileged to know about Khan Academy and Sal Khan’s video-based teaching methodology. In Fall 2012, with the help of a couple of volunteers, I started an initiative (Shikhya) to translate Khan Academy content into my native dialect (Oriya) which is spoken by 44 million people. My key objective was to deliver a high quality educational experience to these kids with the hope of addressing the serious shortage of good teachers. The following were some of the initial lessons we learnt and the challenges we faced:
- Merely dubbing and captioning Khan Academy videos was not useful, because the students failed to connect with references to American or European celebrities or geographical landmarks (e.g, LeBron James or the Thames river) mentioned in the original Khan Academy videos. In some cases, the context was entirely lost to the students.
- Organizing videos into huge playlists like Algebra, Arithmetic, Geometry, etc made it difficult for students to browse them, and even using search was difficult because the keyboard had English characters, and the students didn’t know how they could type Oriya characters into the search box.
- Making the content available in the face of an unreliable electricity supply and lack of internet access was a huge challenge. The latter could be overcome by having an offline version of the software and video content, but the former would still be a problem.
Fast-forwarding to 2015, we have done the following:
- We have created 1500+ math videos from scratch, and as much as possible, we’ve tried to connect the content in them to the local textbooks the kids are following. We took the Khan Academy videos as the ‘blueprint’ to make our videos, and we leveraged all the great research that Sal has put into designing them, while tailoring the videos to an Oriya audience. We call this process “contextualization and localization of videos”.
- We have created 800+ interactive exercises to measure the effectiveness of our program.
- We have mapped all the translated videos, automated exercises and assessment to the Orissa state’s school syllabus, and organized them by grade level. As of now, we have covered the Math syllabus from grades 1 to 10. From our limited pilot data, this mapping has helped improve the students’ engagement.
- We have implemented hardware and software solutions to deliver an unparalleled self-paced learning experience on low-cost tablets, in remote places without internet access or a continuous supply of electricity.
- We ran small scale pilots at two centers with help of local facilitators and we’re building a network of mentors who can give one-on-one guidance when required.
Here are some pictures from our pilot run.
Image 1 : Students are learning at their own pace
Image 2: Students are learning at their own pace
Image 3: Rewinding the video when necessary.
Image 4: A student tried 72 questions at a stretch on Divisibility Rule. Exercise is more Fun !
Image 5: Role of a Local Facilitator – help when students are stuck.
Image 6: Math re-medial center at my village where 36 students can learn simultaneously.
Finally, I believe technology along with right blend of content can help overcoming various challenges faced in remote inaccessible regions to access quality education experience.