They say journeys are important, but here it was the destination. Last weekend after a four-hour bus journey from Jamshedpur my stop at the village Kachchabari, a small village around 35 kilometers from Ranchi, arrived. The picture of a typical modest village, most of whose houses were made of mud-tiles, came into live right before my eyes. On my way to the village, I crossed by few girls carrying utensils and heading towards the pond for cleaning them; a scene that usually gets painted when we talk of rural India. But this village showed me something more than just that which made my destination worthwhile. On reaching the village we were received by the village’s widowed mukhiya with a warm welcome along with tea and some snacks. She then accompanied us to the place of our interest, the Panchayat office. No, it wasn’t the office that was our interest but the study center that functioned there in the evening hours (whereas the office work took place during the day).
The Panchayat Office that hosts student for after school program in the evening
The commitment towards making education accessible to all children was proven there itself. The village consists of approximately 500 families has two schools- one government run and another private. The combined strength of these two schools is nearly 1000. We met a journalist and social worker named Jaicinta who is a local resident and happens to be a UNDP research fellow. She conducts an evening program at the Panchayat Office that helps around 30 girl students from these two schools in teaching creative writing and spoken English. She gave me an overall idea about the current scenario of the educational facilities being provided there. The students had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. But there was an absolute lack of any sort of tutoring facilities or after school programs, neither any skilled teacher prefers settling and teaching in such remote places. This is exactly where a self-sustaining learning platform like Shikhya fills in perfectly, wherein with the help of few tablets, a Shikhya setup box, and a little guidance children can be self-dependent.
Tablets and Shikhya Offline Learning System
So I began the session of the mission we went there with, about implementing the Shikhya offline platform, the mathematics content which is from Khan Academy and the English content from Wadhwani Foundation. There are altogether 17 courses, of which 6 are NCERT Mathematics in Hindi from Grade 5 to 10, 6 are NCERT Mathematics in English from Garde 5 to 10, 4 are on English Grammar, provided by Khan Academy and 1 on Introduction to Spoken English provided by Wadhwani Foundation. Meanwhile a little girl of grade-4 arrived late to class interrupted me with “May I come in, Sir?” and this came in as a little surprise to me that in a remote area where Hindi is predominantly spoken and is unfortunately lying under the dearth of proper educational facilities this little girl has such great enthusiasm and inclination for learning new things and getting educated. So with the help of those 5 tablets and the setup box provided by Shikhya, an after-school program can be run in the Panchayat office in the evening. With the help of this e-learning programme, those students can learn the methods to solve and rigorously practice the mathematics content through video lectures and extensive practice materials under Jaicinta’s supervision.
Children learning to use the Shikhya platform
Since it’s an after school program, the program runs three times a day of two hours duration: 6 am – 8 am, 5pm-7pm, and 7pm-9pm. These time slots are called ‘tablet times’. As per the number of tablets, at a time 5 students are able to utilize the tablet time for practicing the study materials. This way, 15 students get 2 hours of tablet time each day. And students are allotted alternate days in a week in rotation, which is how every child gets 2 slots or 4 hours of tablet time in a week. And following this cycle 45 students can be provided with the resources in a week, each getting a practice session of 4 hours per week.
Finally, we want to thank Meenu Gupta and family for their generous donation of INR 32,000 (USD 461) to supplement the cost of hardware ( 5 tablets and a setup box).