The ‘Jalad Pragat Shaikshanik Maharashtra’ (Fast-paced Progressive Education Programme) has been running in the state since 2017. One of its main aims is to ensure that schools become digital, and teachers become tech-friendly. Many schools in Maharashtra are on their way to using e-learning for teaching.
I am attempting to go beyond this in our Malinagar ZP School, in Malegaon taluka, Nashik. We have a digital library and a bank of audio-visual material. I also hold workshops for parents and students to make them tech-savvy, and am constantly experimenting with technology.
Dundhe village lies adjacent to Malinagar, where we have our little school. There are barely four or five houses in the school’s vicinity. Our village suffers constant water shortage and relies on tankers for water.
I joined the school in 2011, I lived in the village for a year, so as to understand what the villagers expected from the school, and kept up a dialogue with students as well as guardians. I also had conversations with people in nearby villages, in order to have a sense of what they expected from their school-going children.
I have always believed that learning should be enjoyable. I use activities like songs, dance, games, and storytelling when I teach. I had a simple Nokia phone then, on which I would record the songs sung and poems recited by the students, and play these back for them. They were thrilled to hear their own voices. I also used to record the educational programmes broadcast on Akashwani radio, and have the students listen to these.
Besides, we initiated a ‘Pakshi Vachva’ (‘Save the Birds’) campaign. I was aware of how birds, too, suffered because of the water shortage. I got the students to cut old tins and use old bottles, and fill water in them for the birds. These containers are hung on trees, in and around the school. The students regularly clean them and fill them with fresh water. They also bring different grains from their homes to feed the birds. Along with the voices of the children, we now hear the happy chirping of the birds.
It is said, ‘To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable spelled out is a spark.’ I wanted my students to read not just textbooks but also other fiction and non-fiction books. We had some older students in the village, too, who were studying for different exams. In 2012, I started the Mahatma Phule Library in the village to make quality books available to anyone interested. The library is still active. To celebrate each anniversary of the library, we organise a good lecture, or a state-level essay or elocution competition.
I am fascinated by new technologies and have attended many workshops on technology organised for teachers by the State Education Dept. Aware of the role technology plays in the modern and developed world, I was certain that I wanted to make the best use of it for my students.
And so I got myself a smartphone, on which I began downloading various educational apps. I let the students use my phone. They enjoyed using it to play educational games. They were amused by Ganpati “Bappa” giving them a modak for every correct answer, and the cock crowing when they got it wrong! I was happy because they were happy, and were learning at the same time.
The problem was that I had only one phone, and obviously every student wanted to lay their hands on it. This frequently led to fights.
Then in 2014, Rajendra Badhan ‘Sir’ joined as Principal. He appreciated my technology-based experiments: we put in Rs 15,000 each from our own pockets and bought a projector for the school. Now the students could watch educational programmes on a big screen.
For a small village like Malinagar, this was a huge thing. A school where students were using mobiles and tabs for learning… a school that had a projector… and we could see that the students were doing better and better in their studies.
With guardians starting to respond positively, as well, we began informing them about our new programmes through regular meetings. We, too, needed to understand their expectations from their wards and from the school. At one such meeting, we put forward the idea of making ours a tab school – where every student would have access to a tab.
The guardians could see for themselves the difference that using smartphones had made. Some of the well-to-do villagers agreed to support the tab school idea. Soon, we had collected about Rs 4,50,000, which enabled us to buy 17 tabs.
It was decided that one tab was to be shared between two students. And that we would not get rid of the textbooks and notebooks altogether.
The students were delighted to have the tabs. I downloaded various educational apps for them, and in no time they were using the apps independently. The outcome was reflected in their academic progress.
However, I wasn’t yet satisfied.
While teaching Maths, we teachers believe that it’s not enough just to be able to solve the problem, but that to truly understand the subject it is necessary to comprehend the underlying logic. Once you get that logic, and are able to formulate a similar mathematical problem, you can be said to have grasped the concept.
This is why I train students to make their own apps. I use ‘ Appgeyser’ to show them how to make apps in five short steps. My students have successfully created maths-based apps, as well as language apps such as Word Puzzle and Word Challenge.
I was overjoyed to see even 3rd and 4th Std students making their own apps. I thought it would be a good idea to create an online bank of audio-visual materials for the apps being made. The students used their own voiceover and even composed tunes for the poems. Some of them shot videos themselves.
We made separate sections for different subjects. Marathi language apps, English language apps, Maths apps were kept in separate folders, to make it easier for the students to access particular apps.
While we were exploring the digital medium, our Mahatma Phule Library stayed open. The students were reading books from the library as well as the e-books I had downloaded on their tabs. I insist that my students do a supplementary reading and not stick to textbooks alone, and to make sure they do this I always use references from other books while teaching.
Why just the students? I think even their guardians need to read. If their children can read Bahina Bai’s poems, for instance, why can’t they?
I also feel that the dialogue between guardians and teachers must be open and ongoing so that guardians are kept informed of their wards’ progress. With this in mind, I started a WhatsApp group for guardians and teachers and named it ‘Aapli Shaala, Aaple Vaibhav’ (‘Your School, Your Pride’).
On this group, we post about the different programmes in school, students’ progress reports, and so on. I also make interesting e-books available to the adults, and so the group doubles as our digital library. We post articles, and biographies or autobiographies of eminent people like Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule to mark special days. Of late, we have been posting books by the celebrated Marathi writer PL Deshpande, as it is his birth centenary.
My students have not only developed a taste for reading, they have also started to enjoy writing. Their growing interest in language has led several of them to begin writing stories and poems.
As part of the ‘Vachta Vachta Lihite Houya’ (‘Learning to Write while We Read’) initiative, we have published two e-books of poetry – ‘Kavita Ranphulanchya’ (‘Poems about Wild Flowers’) by various students, and ‘Nishigandh’, a collection of poems by Nisha Raundal, an 8th Std student. We have brought these out with the help of the website of E-Sahitya Pratishthan.
‘My Dream’, a book of English poetry by Harshal Raundal, a 3rd Std student, has been published as a physical book as well as an e-book.
All three poetry books have been catalogued in the form of QR code, using the appropriate technology, causing our efforts to be lauded in the educational sector.
Through these various activities, we have been able to establish a dialogue between teachers and guardians.
I felt that if the latter became familiar with digital technology, they would be better equipped to help with their children’s studies. While many technology workshops are routinely held for teachers, we at the Malinagar School were the first to hold one for our students’ guardians.
Through these workshops, I guide both guardians and teachers on how to use a mobile phone effectively for learning.
A mobile phone has more to it than WhatsApp and Facebook. Many educational apps are available for downloading. I show the participants how to do this; train them to make their own apps; introduce them to the wonders of augmented reality; teach them how to roam the world virtually; and other such exciting things.
I also urge them to visit our school blog at https://dnyanjoti.blogspot.com
Our students look forward to Saturdays the most, which is when we don’t have regular classes. They do yoga, breathing exercises, calisthenics, solve brain teasers, take part in sports competitions and cultural programmes.
In addition, once every three months we screen thought-provoking documentaries. So far we have screened 25 short films, including ‘Pistulya’, ‘Umbrella’, ‘Mazhya Gurujinchi Gaadi’ and ‘I Am the Change’, all of which our students have enjoyed. We also have discussions after the screenings.
My endeavour is to provide my students with a wholesome, all-round education.
Writing: Bharat Vitthal Patil, Assistant Teacher, Malinagar ZP Primary School, Malegaon, Nashik district
Editing and translation: samata.shiksha team