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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.

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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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