The computer lab conundrum

There are less than a couple of months left before I leave Odisha and I am already sad about it every other day. It sucks to answer the kids, when they ask me why I have to leave. Also, There are so many things to do and I am finding it hard to prioritize.

Thanks to lack of internet connectivity in the school, I also stopped blogging, but I am writing this post to ask all you people to share your ideas and recommendations.

My work here took a bit of a turn when my co-fellow Srikrishna decided to run away to the Himalayas either seeking more peace or challenges, I know not what. While he was here, his plan was to create a knowledge and learning centre at the school with the ten computers that were received as donation.  Before it took shape, he was gone. And since the children were more very very eager to start learning computers, I couldn’t let them be disappointed, I had to take over the responsibility of the learning center.

In the new academic year, I took responsibility of the lab and after much coaxing, the folks at the school agreed to include computers as part of the regular time-table for all classes. Now, every student (500 of them!) gets to attend computer class once a week.

Now, that I had a functioning lab with me, and kids more eager than ever to start learning, it was an easy task to get things going. It was pure joy to see them excitedly hold the mouse for the first time, go hawwww when they could draw, grin when they could make animations on powerpoint and  be amazed when they could just copy and paste stuff!

Thanks to a co-fellow Ashish , we even have a lovely little computer book in Odia – hand illustrated by children of another Gram Vikas school.

20150516120017_00001

Wonderful hand illustrated book created by kids of another GV school under the guidance of co-fellow Ashish

Children of all classes are now learning basics of computers, how to use MS office tools like Word, Power-point, Excel etc. and are super happy to be doing so. There are going to be tutorial videos as well in Odia so that the dependency on the teacher is not very high.

Kids learning to type

Kids learning to type

This is all good, but does someone really need to be taught how to use Word, Excel or Powerpoint?  They are all intuitive and can be self-taught. Shouldn’t the purpose of a computer lab be much beyond that?!

I read somewhere, Technology is tool, and not a learning outcome.

Learning computers is not the end but just the means to opening up a world they didn’t know existed.

So, we decided to introduce use of e-learning material, videos, images related to the lessons being learnt; also interactive e-stuff to make learning fun and also more effective. It is well known that the use of images, along with words, diminishes the overwhelming nature of text and increase retention. E-learning also allows self-paced learning and gives students the power to choose what they want to learn.

As a result, now, we have a repository of materials for most topics of subjects across classes.  Teachers take these materials on the laptop (donated by a kind stranger who saw a related tweet) and show it in the class during the lesson. The repository would also be made available on the computers in the lab and the children can view them in the computer period.   It feels good to see the kids excitedly asking for videos of Mangalyaan or the Human eye or Kapil Dev – stuff they are learning about in their everyday lessons.

Kids saying Thank you to Ganesh Pradhan who donated his laptop to the school

Kids saying Thank you to Ganesh Pradhan who donated his laptop to the school

I feel there is so much more that can be done in the knowledge center . Introducing programming and useful software would be the next logical step.I am planinng to start with MSW Logo which is really simple to pick up. Khan academy, code academy are wonderful but internet, right now, is a challenge. We only have mobile data which is very poor and efforts are being made to get better internet.

I know there are tonnes of possibilities. I am not even an expert in education to know or decide what’s best.

So, my request to you folks reading this, is to pour in your suggestions on how to make best use of a computer lab in a residential rural school to make it both fun and effective. Do keep in mind constraints of poor internet connectivity, no expert computer instructor and also poor English comprehension skills.

If you have kids going to school or if you can just spend 5 mins to think about this , help me with recommendations on how best to use the lab. It could be anything related to:

  • Computer Games that can be introduced
  • Interactive e-learning material (Math and English, if other subjects- has to be in Odia)
  • Simple Programming – which languages to start with?
  • Useful software you would recommend be taught
  • Best way to use mobile apps on desktops – tonnes of useful mobile apps for Math and English available
  • Good movies and videos (there is a huge repository of animation movies, planet earth etc already)
  • Anything else I am unable to think of

Less than two months to go and there are tonnes of things remaining to be done. The hope is that finally, the learning center makes learning more fun and effective, and picking up basic computer skills prepares these kids better to thrive and grow in a world where a new born first holds a tablet in his hand.

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16 thoughts on “The computer lab conundrum

  1. Great Initiative Sunayana!
    In my school, we started coding with ‘BASIC’ and ‘MS-DOS’ somewhere around class sixth as far as I can remember. HTML was introduced by class 9th. It is much more interesting for children as they can then see what they’re making as possibly explore this skill in future to make real websites too. Flash was introduced to us in college, although we would have enjoyed it more had it been a part of school curriculum.

    For educational videos, you could look at ‘sid the science kid’/PBS – not much help here but if someone could download and send CDs to you, it could work out better than streaming.

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    • Hey Supriya, thanks so much for your comments.. MS Paint is what we start with and they love it as they have a natural flair for art..
      We did learn BASIC and MS DOS back in school too .. I also wanted to know what kids are learning in schools today..
      Thanks a lot for the PBS link! I do go to good internet once in a while in order to download stuff for the school, so it surely helps! Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are learning DVDs which I hope there is a player and you can build a local network if only one computer has a DVD player. The DVDs are about math, science, etc. I am not sure if we can get Oriya language, but software such as Baraha can help in translating or transliteration.
    If teaching or learning a software language Java is the way to go for kids. Others are more complicated and Java has a lot of readily and freely available software libraries.

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  3. Reblogged this on Swat of All Trades and commented:
    Hello! My sister is spending her last two months in Orissa, teaching at a tribal school. She worked hard to get a fully functional computer lab and made sure they included computer classes once a week in their syllabus. Now she needs help to make them learn more effectively through computers. Please send her your suggestions and the children in Orissa will be grateful to you for making them more knowledgeable human beings. 🙂

    Like

  4. I wonder if you have tried Odia Wikipedia? I am not good at reading Odia script, so haven’t dug deep but I like the idea that you can download articles as pdf which should help in case of poor Internet connectivity. Again, not sure if the wikis match your course content standards but they can always supplement. Right?

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  5. Hey Sunayana,
    I got here through Swathi’s Facebook post. Good job getting those kids access to the computers! Some pointers:
    – Instead of MS Paint, introduce them to Inkscape. It’s free and has loads more features for the kids to exercise their creativity.
    – Python is a good beginner language. It almost reads like English, so it’s easy to pick up if the kids know basic English keywords. There are also fun libraries to create games, websites, etc. that will keep the interest in learning alive as they advance. (Kids who know only Odiya and nothing else are out of luck though. It is unfortunate but core features of all popular programming languages are only accessible using English)
    To get around the language barrier, I would recommend that any bilingual (English/Odiya) teacher at the school pick up the basics and pass it on to the kids. An average adult could easily pick up the language in a few weeks spending a couple of hours per day. I would recommend “Learn python the hard way” to anyone who wants to learn. Link to pdf: http://www.souravsengupta.com/int2pro2014/python/LPTHW.pdf
    – You can run Android apps on Windows using Andy the Android Emulator.

    If you or your successors in running this programme have any specific questions relating to programming/technology, feel free to send me an email.

    Arun.

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  6. You should check the comment section of this: http://ask.slashdot.org/story/15/09/15/1322206/ask-slashdot-how-would-you-introduce-kids-in-rural-india-to-computers

    Programming language: Python is a great beginner language as I heared. If you want even easier, use YABASIC.

    Software: Introduce them to some Linux distribution, personally I would put Xubuntu. As comment stated, use Inkscape. Also in later classes learn them how to use Linux terminal since they are useful for programming and ‘doing stuff quicker’.
    Also use Wine (https://www.winehq.org/) to run Windows program on Linux Environment.

    Games/Fun stuff: I recommend Puzzle Games, the Ubuntu repository has alot of free games. Also Jazz Jackrabbit 2 has selection of game modes that makes the game fun in different ways, but hard to find. Arcade games can be played using MAME.
    Just avoid FPS in general.

    If you have any questions to me, feel free to contact me. Sorry for my rudeness (if there is any)

    Regards,
    Alexander.

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  7. Once you teach a kid some basic concepts: I/O devices, processing, output, storage, peripheral device control, and OS interface attributes, you should teach them learn how to identify the function of an program and explore a software application’s user interface.

    Windows *sigh*
    ? (You may wish to point out that the GUI is fluff in the context data processing, except that it’s a powerful time saver for people who use computers for a multitude of tasks during the course of a day. Then show them the command line, navigate the directories, edit and save some text and move on…)

    – File Explorer (about time MS renamed this thing)
    – – (foicus on MS-language: directories/folders, files, changing the view to suit your needs)
    – Notepad (It is easy to use Notepad to teach basic ubiquitous processing commands [open, save, save as, copy, cut, paste, etc] and universal Windows menus and keyboard shortcuts)
    – Wordpad. (use it to differentiate formatting/appearance from the informational content of a file as well as the importance of file types)
    – Help Files (how to use them to learn Microsoftese and explore the capabilities of any program)
    – Preferences & Settings (Teach them to learn a program through exploring the options offered by the program’s designers, defaults vs optional settings)

    !! Teach them the difference between reliance on software as a tool and understanding the nature of information contained within data files. Software comes and goes, knowledge and its mastery allows students to achieve their goals.

    Teach students that computers are tools that cannot be fully utilized until the nature of the task is understood.

    * Teach them about privacy, security and surveillance.
    ** Teach them to protect themselves and their future.
    *** Remember, a little dread goes a long way.

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  8. Give them TuxPaint for painting Audacity for audio editing. GIMP for image editing
    You should have given them free software. Nonvoilent games like tuxkart. TuxRacer.

    If there is some one who can install GNU/Linux there are more possibilities.

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  9. I would recommend Ubuntu GNU/Linux ( http://www.ubuntu.com/ )
    or Edubuntu ( http://edubuntu.org/ )
    https://help.ubuntu.com/lts/ubuntu-help/index.html
    http://edubuntu.org/documentation

    It is free, and comes with LibreOffice ( http://www.libreoffice.org/ ) and Firefox, and lots of other apps, installed from repositories ( https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Repositories )

    Apps like GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Thunderbird, too many to list

    lots of Educational apps, TuxMath, TuxPaint, TuxTyping, Gcompris, KTuberling
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Applications
    https://wiki.ubuntu.com/Edubuntu/AppGuide

    You could setup Moodle ( https://moodle.org/ ) to have on-line courses, from which the students can download the e-learning materials
    Unfortunatly I don’t know if Moodle has the language you require, possibly help here https://lang.moodle.org/ to translate Moodle

    All the above is free to download as well as use

    William

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  10. You should ask the founder of Eejot (eejot.org) for advice. Eejot has set up a computer learning lab for kids in a remote area of Nepal, with similar challenges to yours.

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  11. You should ask the founder of Eejot (eejot.org) for advice. Eejot has set up a computer learning lab for kids in a remote area of Nepal, overcoming challenges similar to the ones you have.

    Like

  12. Pingback: Thank You Odisha | Su finally decided to blog

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