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Giving rural education a boost!

Wednesday, May 01, 2019
By A Staff Reporter

Along with smart implementation of modern tech and social media, Amrita University uses Tablets, Selfies, and WhatsApp effectively to improve learning outcomes.
Three years ago, Gayatri Kumari a teacher in the small village of Nagla Chandi in Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh faced a challenge on how to share her knowledge and teach students who often played truant from school. Rakesh Kumar, one of Gayatri’s students dreaded going to school and very often skipped classes.

In the same state, in another village, Alok Ram, a teacher from Sarai Nuruddin Pur village in Allahabad district faced similar challenges. He found it difficult to prevent students from dropping out of school. Reena Devi from the same village wanted to educate her son further but lack of proper facilities at the nearest school prevented her from doing so.

It took a unique initiative by Amrita University to transform the situation in these villages. Amrita University through its education arm, Amrita CREATE (Center for Research in Advanced Technologies for Education) launched its rural educational program, Amrita Rural India Tablet-enhanced Education (RITE) in September 2013. Following the guidance given by Mata Amritanandamayi, instead of just launching a pilot programme in a few villages in a single state, it was decided to open a center in as many states as possible. And thus began the process of change!

An analysis of the situation and evaluation of the village needs across the country helped Amrita CREATE   to identify the causes for the problems existing in delivery of education in the villages. While a high level of absenteeism among teachers in many government schools led to low student performance from poor mentoring, multi-grade classrooms, lack of qualified teachers, limited access to education technology, ethnic inequalities, gender inequalities, child marriage, child labour, substance abuse, poor attitudes towards science and technology and lack of infrastructure such as computer and science labs all played a part in creating problems in rural education.

Amrita CREATE came up with a unique solution - providing tablet-aided education through afterschool tutoring in remote rural areas of India. The project employs local teachers at the villages, traveling coordinators and coordinators at the headquarters in Amritapuri. The tablets are provided with 2G SIM cards to transmit information such as student attendance and assessment as well as teacher monitoring data.

The use of interactive tablets or tabs make the process of learning more interesting. Amrita RITE also serves as a literacy solution to motivate rural children to learn at their own pace. The solution in nine Indian languages, using innovative characters and speech recognition algorithms is designed to work in areas without internet and with the low processing power of android tablets.

The most educated youth in the village, sometimes only with 12th grade education, were hired and trained in many areas such as pedagogy and classroom management for classroom performance, as well as yoga for teaching children holistic health and mindfulness.

The tablets and technology also helped Amrita CREATE address another issue. When the RITE program kicked off, it was resolved to make monitoring a key element. However, there were many pitfalls - the teachers were not entirely honest about taking classes, there was no way of verifying if they were telling the truth, very often calls went out of range, and calling multiple centers, multiple times a day, became an exhausting full-time job.

Something more, a different solution was required. The need of the hour was a more valid, foolproof system for reporting. It was decided to harness the power of modern technology and social media. Teachers were provided with tablets. An app called Amrita eRegister was developed. This enabled teachers to take their daily roster on the tablet and send it to the headquarters at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, at the touch of a button. WhatsApp was used for reporting.

A month-long training programme held at Amritapuri brought all rural teachers across the country up to date on use of the new monitoring system, in conjunction with WhatsApp reporting formats. Teachers now started submitting daily WhatsApp photos and reports with total number of students, girls and boys. A ‘Time-stamp’ app was introduced to prevent old photos being recycled. Teachers were also asked to take selfies before and at the end of class to make sure that the classes have taken place. These steps have ensured teacher accountability, improving overall student performance and attendance at the centers greatly.

Amrita RITE is offered at education centres in 41 villages across 21 states in India. Amrita RITE has taught 9273 children to date, and imparted awareness impacting rural populations of approximately 42,000 in remote tribal villages in more than 80 rural education centers in 21 states.

Today, thanks to Amrita RITE, Gayatri enjoys teaching, Rakesh looks forward to go to school, and Alok’s job of persuading students to study a thing of the past. Reena Devi is happy that she can give her son an education in the village itself!

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