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Password for progress

by S.Giridhar, Head - Advocacy and Research

A project to provide computers for students of government schools in some districts has resulted in better attendance and enrollment. The State government is extending the programme to more districts.
S Giridhar visits a school in Maddur

Poojashree is a sparkling and mischievous 12-year-old. Pratap, small for the same age is a bit worldly wise and has a burning ambition to be a police inspector. Nandini the tallest of the three is quiet and smart as well. All three are from Class 7 at the Hemmanahalli Government Higher Primary School. These are the protagonists of the story that we narrate here. A story of rural government school children who use educational software content on the computers in their school with great ease.

We begin with a quick but necessary preamble: The Government of Karnataka in a joint initiative with Azim Premji Foundation on a pilot basis set up about 6 to 8 computers in 35 rural Government higher primary schools since mid 2001. The aim of this project was to demonstrate that technology initiatives such as the use of software to reinforce certain aspects of Mathematics, Geography, Environmental Science and Kannada curriculum would have a positive impact on the interest levels of children and increase their learning achievement levels. Computers for education in this case were also aimed at increasing attendance rates and even enrollment. An independent research commissioned to assess the impact of this project has shown that there has been an increase in learning achievement. The Government of Karnataka has now expanded this initiative and along with the Foundation is launching 55 more such Community Learning Centres across certain districts. The districts include Chitradurga, Kodagu, Bangalore Rural, Chikmagalur, Shimoga, Hassan, Davanagere, Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Uttara Kannada, and Tumkur.

Off and on one comes across opinions about whether rural children are really comfortable or not with such technology. So we thought of presenting a story of a day that we spent with these children in Hemmanahalli a village in Maddur Taluk, 70 kilometres from the comfortable chrome and glass of Bangalore.

Pratap’s father, Shankar is illiterate and makes a living out of one acre. We wanted to visit Pratap’s father but he had got into a fight with someone the previous night and was in hospital. His grandmother absolutely uninterested in anything spoke not a word and Pratap quietly took us back to school. He eats a meal of rice and saaru thrice a day because he does not like ragi. All his focus is on becoming a graduate so that he can become a police inspector. This is what is driving him to study well and become a graduate. He is conscious that he is a first generation literate and proudly tells us that he has taught his father the alphabets and Shankar can now sign his name.

Nandini’s parents have studied upto middle school. Her father, Mahadevappa is a private bus driver and we spent a few minutes at Nandini’s home with her parents. Their home is a typical village home and it is clear that Mahadevappa and his wife Nagamma lead a frugal life.They are quite proud of Nandini. While her mother follows up at school on Nandini’s progress her father is indifferent. We urge Mahadevappa to also visit Nandini’s school and check her progress with her teachers. Nandini wants to become a doctor. She knows that she must do her MBBS. She is also very specific that she wants to be a surgeon! There is every chance she will achieve her goal because there is a quiet determination in her. She speaks less but she means what she says. She provides the counterpoint to the effervescent Poojashree who just cannot stop smiling throughout the day.

Pooja stays with her grandparents. Her grandfather is a retired teacher who was away when we visited his home but her grandmother was there and shyly agreed to be photographed with Pooja. Her parents live in Channapatna where her father Gopal is a farmer with a small landholding, a couple of acres, while her mother works for the local dairy. It is the only home here which gets a newspaper.

All three however in school have a common purpose and a similar approach. They enjoy their school, the teachers recognise that they are bright and all three just cannot wait to get their hands on the mouse and keyboard. When we asked the Young India Fellow (Rupa also belongs to Hemmanahalli and taught them to use the computer and manages the centre) to start the three on the computers she said they will go to the computers like pebbles from a catapult. In a wink all three had started up, the CD pertaining to Kannada lessons was on in one computer while Pooja and Nandini started with the CD with Arithmetic curriculum. Like all children soon one of them went into ‘Paintbrush’ and immediately the others piled on trying to improve what our artist was trying to do!

We rounded off the visit with a few arithmetic problems which children in Class 7 should be able to do and all three vied with each other to do them first. Joyful learning, complete comfort with computers, quick and correct responses. In every way they are smart children who have grabbed the opportunity well.

The other aspiration is that they must learn English as a language. Some children while playing games on the CD are itching to shift to English though they have an option to operate in Kannada. Something tells them they ought to acquire a knowledge of English in addition to their mother tongue.

This article appeared in Deccan Herald, issue dated November 22, 2002