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Microsoft - Education in rural India: going virtual in the village

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Education in rural India: going virtual in the village

At the Kamla Nehru Public School (KNPS) in Punjab’s Chak Hakim village, the teachers all tend to wear sports shoes. “Forget about fancy footwear,” says Charu Chhabra, the vice principal, with a chuckle. “When you have a principal who likes to run everywhere, you have to keep up too.” She is talking about Paramjeet Kaur Dhillon, who has led the sprawling institution with about 1,600 students since its founding in April 2007, when it had just six rooms and a strength of 68. Dhillon’s zeal to keep pace with the changing times is infectious, say her colleagues, and it is what has allowed them to swiftly respond to the pandemic. Together, they designed and rolled out a remote learning program as early as April, well before schools in urban settings had even grasped the new reality.

For the moment, the principal’s famous speedy gait is limited to her home, but she stops by in the various virtual classrooms every day. Her students—who come from 65 farming villages around the city of Phagwara in Punjab—log in over smartphones, tablets, and laptops with recently upgraded internet data plans. Classes typically last for six hours and they are so engaging, says Satinder Kaur, mother of a Grade 6 student, that her son actually misses studying on weekends and holidays. Over e-mail and instant messaging, schools from Delhi and Pune have asked the first movers in online teaching to share their secrets.

Dhillon herself had never seen a desktop until the late 1980s when she was teaching physics at the MGN School in Jalandhar. Members of the staff who wished to operate the fascinating machine were asked to attend lessons after class hours, and Dhillon signed up promptly. For weeks, she would pack extra tiffin boxes for her two small children and set out on a moped to learn the fundamentals of computing. All evening and the next morning, algorithms and binary codes would run through her head. “I dreamed about computers,” she recalls. “I was always eager to update myself so that I could teach my students too.”

Little surprise then that information technology has been front and center of the curriculum at KNPS. Dhillon is often heard saying she does not want students to feel let down, as if she “only given them half a loaf”. As such, they evaluate themselves not only against peers in India but also the world. The school offers kindergarten to Grade 12 education and its students belong mostly to modest households. Several are first-generation learners. Their parents, while not highly literate, raise money abroad by working in factories or driving cabs. It lets them afford electronic devices and schooling for their offspring. “They want their children to have the things which they could not access growing up,” says the principal.

Fluency in the English language and technology are particularly valued by parents in this milieu. An attempt in 2014 to go from bags-to-laptops flopped as many did not have laptops. “We had tried so at least we knew how you fail,” Dhillon remembers. “Nothing can be made mandatory in a village school.” Through a partnership in 2015, KNPS became a Microsoft Showcase school. That is when a softer approach to integrated digital learning with the curriculum began in the form of bring-your-own-devices or BYOD. Some parents had apprehensions about introducing their wards to the Internet early on, but they came around after reassurances. Children shared devices and familiarized themselves with Microsoft’s learning tools such as OneNote for taking notes, Kahoot! for game-based learning, and Sway for making presentations.



https://www.sickgaming.net/blog/2020/09/...e-village/
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