I’m Balaji Jadhav, the ordinary son of an ordinary farmer’s family in Latur. I completed a D.Ed, and travelled from Latur to Satara to earn my living as a teacher at the Zilla Parishad Primary School in Shindewadi, in Maan taluka. It being a drought-prone area, most families here worked at brick kilns, or did other kinds of manual labour, or were shepherds. When I joined the school, the attendance sheet had 23 names, but only 10 or 12 students would be present on any given day. Those belonging to the shepherd community would wander to nearby villages with their families and flocks, while several others found school too boring.
It made me uneasy to see these children wandering about the village, and I was constantly thinking of ways to get them back into school. Before this, I had worked in a private school which did not have a clerk, and so it often fell to me to fill in forms and to do all the computer-related work. Being keen on technology, I used to browse a good deal, and gather useful and interesting information. I remembered that as I stood trying to think of ways to get the Shindewadi children to come to school – and I decided to make use of the computer to win their interest. Mr Karade, the Principal, supported my idea, but the big question was: how to acquire a computer for the school? It did not have one, and as most of the villagers lived below the poverty line, we could not ask for their help. Finally, I bought a laptop myself and started using it in school regularly.
Children love watching cartoons and TV programmes, and playing video games, so initially I let them watch shows they liked, and nursery rhymes, and play games. The students were extremely curious about the laptop, and thrilled that the teacher would allow them to actually handle it. They would spend hours waiting for their turn. Soon enough, they began to talk about these adventures to their friends who were not coming to school. This brought all the missing students back!
While I was happy that all these students were now attending school regularly, my challenge was to get them to progress academically. Coming as I did from Latur district, I was a product of the “Latur pattern”, a teaching method that has become known for excellent academic results from that region. I strongly believed that the students needed to do well academically, and started downloading games that would complement their syllabus. In this rural area, the scholarship exam held particular significance, and I was keen that my students take the exam. I motivated the 4th std students, and worked hard with them. They studied equally sincerely, and all who appeared for the exam cleared it, though none of them managed to get the scholarship.
I was disappointed, and for days together I kept trying to understand where I had gone wrong. I tried to identify the areas that needed more attention. With renewed resolve, I began downloading videos relevant to the curriculum, and showing them to the students. I created a huge question bank which the students could use to study and practice. Our efforts bore fruit and in 2008, a few students from our school won the coveted scholarship. After that, the students of Shindewadi ZP School created a record of sorts by getting scholarships for the next seven consecutive years.
When my students won the scholarship for the second year in a row, both the Principal and the Extension Officer applauded my efforts. The questionnaires I had prepared for my students were circulated in the entire beat. That year, when students from over 60 schools got the scholarship, the Extension Officer Mr Jadhav encouraged me to take the project to more schools. Our school records showed that we now had around 50 students enrolled. To our surprise, even the brick kiln owners started sending their children to our school, instead of the English medium schools in the vicinity.
It was during this time that I learned about blogging from a friend. I was confident that this was the way to spread information about my experiment throughout the state. In 2010, I started http://www.shikshanbhakti.in – in which I shared ideas on how to make the syllabus more interesting, suggested projects that could be complementary to the syllabus, and included the practice questionnaires I had devised for the scholarship exam.
The blog garnered a very good response. Many teachers began making use of its resources. But I also received a few complaints. Some teachers expressed dissatisfaction because they had to get printouts of the question papers, and this was too expensive. They requested me to find a more economical solution.
I was aware that the ZP schools could not afford to spend on such printouts every day. There were also the environmental repercussions caused by such large scale use of paper. But I was confident that I would be able to overcome this problem through technology. I learned HTML programming and was then able to make the question papers available online on the blog. These online tests are always multiple choice. After selecting the correct answers, when one “submits” the answer sheet, the result takes barely a minute to appear. It is then simple to check the answers, and to get the correct answers for wrong responses. This, for the teachers, was like opening a treasure box. Once the online tests became accessible, almost 12,000 schools began visiting the website every day!
I should have been satisfied by this outcome, but I realised that out of the 12000 that visited the website, almost 10,000 belonged to the urban areas of Maharashtra. I wanted to be able to help students in the rural areas prepare for the scholarship exams. But when even electricity is not assured in most such areas, what hope is there for internet connectivity? I was upset that rural schools, by and large, could not access these online tests. So I turned once again to the internet for a solution.
I thought of using Flash software to create off line tests. First, I developed an off line application called “Std4th”, which had complementary projects for all thBalagi Jadhav introduces the online world to his studentse relevant subjects and tests. I designed the software so that it could be used with an android phone as well. This way, teachers could choose to download the App on their tabs or mobiles when there was internet connectivity. Their students could later do the tests, and even get their results, offline.
I started developing these offline Apps in 2014, and got a tremendous response from all over the state. That year my blog received a Best Website Award from the Yashwantrao Chavan Prathisthan. I was also chosen as one of the four best teachers from India by Google India.
Every year, on 5 September, Google India rewards four Indian teachers. In 2014, when I received this honour, the other three chosen teachers belonged to the IITs and worked in metropolises. I was proud that a ZP school teacher had been picked along with them.
My efforts towards the overall development of my students continued as before. I would download videos related to art and craft, gardening and music for them. They would tour the world through YouTube, or play videos on choreography and practice dance. This led to my student Prathamesh Mane’s qualifying for the ‘Dance India Dance’ competition in 2013 – a moment of great pride for the entire school. I was equally proud when my students from Shindewadi school performed well in various district-level competitions.
Meanwhile, Principal Secretary, School Education and Sports, Nand Kumar, formed a group of teachers who were using and experimenting with technology in this manner. Today there is a force of such ‘techno-savvy’ teachers in the state. We exchange ideas on the experiments we carry out, and learn new things everyday. Currently we are making videos that is meant to serve as an additional resource in school education, which we hope will be available to all teachers in the state through the MITRA app.
Since 2014, I have conducted around 120 workshops on behalf of the state government for teachers and education officers in the state. In these workshops I have demonstrated how to make your own videos, how to upload videos on YouTube, how to use open source software, and using technology relevant to the subject. These workshops are usually held during the summer vacations, and on Sundays.
I am keen to ensure quality education for students from rural areas. So I use the internet constantly. This is how I discovered ‘Google Earth’. All of us have learned geography through maps, but this technology makes it possible for a child to tour the Himalayas while sitting in a remote village! Making use of this technology, I have even shown my students the Taj Mahal, from all possible angles!
Taking note of my efforts, Google has given me a certificate declaring me a “Google certified teacher”. This certificate is given to teachers who make good use of technology in the classroom, and who also clear the test designed by Google to get this certificate.
Along with my blog, I have a YouTube channel called Shikshanbhakti. The blog has a large amount of study material for students, whereas the YouTube channel shows how to browse, how to type in Marathi, how to make videos, and contains a tutorial in photo-editing and other such lessons that may be useful for teachers. Since the last two years, I have also been working in Maharashtra state’s IT cell for e-governance. This collaboration with the National Informatics Centre includes the SARAL system of the education department and other projects.
Last year I was transferred from Shindewadi to the Pulkoti primary school. Here the parents are slightly better off, so we have appealed to them to help in making the school go digital. So far we have collected enough to purchase three tabs. We have also started sending parents a description of the homework given to students, by SMS. This initiative has been much appreciated in the taluka, because now practically all students come to school with their homework done. It has also helped start a dialogue between the parents and the teachers. Responding to the concern shown by teachers, the parents have been coming to school to meet them. This is a matter of great satisfaction to me, as I believe that healthy interaction between parents and teachers can help shape a generation that will be able to face the competitive world with confidence.
Blog: Balaji Jadhav, Assistant Teacher, Zilla Parishad Cluster Primary School, Pulkoti, Mhaswad taluka, Satara district
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team.