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Plan India partners Ericsson to digitally connect teachers, rural students

students, teacherOne of the biggest challenges the Indian education sector faces today is how to connect well-trained teachers with rural and marginalised students. Digital teaching technologies provide some solutions but experts often aver that there’s no substitute for good old fashioned classroom teaching.Plan International, an organisation working on children and girls’ rights in 75 countries worldwide, has developed a pilot that uses internet-enabled learning in classrooms which could meet both criteria.Their objective? “Over the years, we’d noticed that the lack of quality education, especially in maths and science, was the reason why so many girls performed poorly in the Class X board examinations and dropped out,” says Shompa Mahanty, media and PR Manager at Plan India.Plan India came up with a simple but potentially revolutionary solution: Instead of bringing good teachers to every classroom, they’d use cutting-edge digital technology, in collaboration with Ericsson, to beam pictures of the teacher in multiple classrooms instead. “Think of it as a sort of videoconferencing,” says Sajjad Hussain, programme manager at a Digital Learning Centre (DLC) in West Delhi’s Uttam Nagar, which is jointly run by Plan India and their local field partner Alamb.At the learning centre, the sounds from a classroom are heard all the way to the nearby road. But inside, there’s only a solitary teacher sitting in a cabin. His name is Sanjay Kumar, a maths teacher with years of experience.Kumar is teaching geometry via the computer to a connected network of 15 classrooms within a 70-km radius. His computer screen splits into multiples to give him a view of all his classrooms, each of which has a facilitator and junior teacher to provide hands-on support to the students. Every time he needs to illustrate a point or draw a diagram, he uses a stylus to scribble on the smart board, just as he would on a traditional blackboard. This is instantly transmitted to every classroom, or learning centre as they like to call it.“I can’t get over how easy and efficient this system is,” Kumar says. “For the effort it would take me to teach a single classroom of 30 students, I am able to reach out to 300!”In the three years since the DLC has been operational, there has been a distinct improvement in the academic performance and overall personalities of the students.Last year, all the Class X students at the centre obtained over 60 per cent marks in the board exams. Ten students secured over 85 per cent.Naina is one of them. “Without private tuitions, I was sure I’d fail in maths in Class X,” she says. Her parents were wary of sending her outside the neighbourhood for private tuitions, so she joined the DLC instead. She scored 87 per cent in the Class X exams last year and is now hoping to get admitted to a good engineering college.“I couldn’t have done it without the support I received here,” she says. Today, Naina is an alumna volunteer who has motivated 35 other girls in her community to join the programme. Surbhi, a Class X student, says: “Before I started coming for the classes, maths and science terrified me. Now I’m aiming for over 85 per cent marks in my board exams and plan to take the science stream in Class XI.”Meanwhile, the folks at Plan India are doing another math.A single DLC costs roughly Rs 10 million per annum to run, and this includes the one-time set-up costs, as well as recurring costs like rent and teacher salaries. It reaches out to 1,200 students in 15 centres annually. They reckon that with only a modicum of extra funding, they could increase the number of centres to 20 without impacting their connection speed.“This could potentially change the face of rural education,” says Kumar, who enjoys his digital classroom way more than physical ones. “Instead of relying on pricey private tutors or indifferent government schoolteachers, one could transform a child’s life and learning experience by beaming images of the best teachers to a student in a digital classroom.”Learn more at or follow them on Facebook and TwitterThe names of all underage respondents have been changed
Source: Business Standard