Students from five corporation schools in Coimbatore venture out on a unique project covering civic issues

The excitement levels on the faces of the young girls are high as they brave the morning heat and head to the town bus stand at Gandhipuram.

These girls are not making a trip to a theatre or going to visit their relatives, like most others on vacation. They are trying to shoot a documentary on the harmful effects of carbon monoxide emitted by the buses and the possible ill effects on the people inhaling it.

The girls also take pictures of street food vendors, capture a man smoking outside a bakery, focus on fly infested fruits and snacks and click images of an open drain in the vicinity.

This is all part of a summer activity initiated by the American India Foundation, a Non Governmental Organization bringing about educational reforms across the country. Children of 23 Corporation schools, armed with a digital camera will highlight basic civic and environmental issues in their schools, community and neighbourhood and offer their own solutions to these problems.

Here is a pointer on colouring agents or additives to fast food given by one of the students. “Chromium is used as an additive to the kaalaan (mushroom) that we eat at the roadside. While it looks appetising, it can cause toxic damage to the body when consumed over a long period of time. It still continues to be used in most roadside shops which have high patronage,” explains M Vidya Priya, a class eight student, showing a video capture of the additive.

Videos on health

Eight girls from classes VII and VIII, accompanied by the headmistress in charge form a team to shoot educational videos on infections caused through eating uncovered food, open drainages, air pollution and the perils of smoking and drinking.

They will then edit these videos using the latest software, mix the audio and present them to the school in five days.

This is part of the Digital Story Telling (DST) Project initiated by the Foundation under the Digital Equalization (DE) Programme. The best videos will be chosen and screened in the presence of the Mayor and Corporation Commissioner on May 26th.

Using a digital camera sponsored by the Corporation and shooting videos on the streets and traffic signals has not only been an eye opener but also improved the children’s confidence levels.

“People stared at us with mixed emotions. There was fear and suspicion while we captured them on our cameras. However, we continued shooting with the project in mind and offered advice to people willing to listen,” says B Deepashree, a member of the team. Some of these solutions offered were asking police constables in the vicinity to wear protective masks to avoid inhaling vehicular smoke, asking roadside vendors to keep their food covered and urging smokers to kick the butt. Discussions on how to prevent communicable diseases has meant that the children themselves think twice before gorging on the tempting roadside fare. They also cover their faces with handkerchiefs to avoid inhaling smoke. “We don’t eat in places where food is uncovered and have urged our parents to do the same,” says Deepashree.

The girls have also started thinking on their feet and implementing preventive measures at home. “The main purpose of this activity is to teach children to analyse civic problems, find their own solutions and implement them personally. A batch of students who did a survey on water conservation started saving water in their own homes,” says V Alexander, zonal co-ordinator of the Foundation.

With an objective to introduce smart classrooms in five Corporation schools and providing tablet PCs to students and faculty of a special Corporation school in the near future, learning beyond the classroom is getting a boost.

ACTION PLAN

The Corporation has inked a three-year MoU (2012-15) with the American India Foundation under which subject content will be provided to the students using technology in Tamil

The Digital Equalization Programme covers 10 high schools, 16 higher secondary schools and one special school of the Coimbatore Corporation

Training is split into three categories; Digital Story Telling (DST), Project Based Learning (PBL) and subject content.

Digital editing software Windows Movie Maker, photo software Microsoft Photo Story and sound editing software Audacity will be used by the students

Coimbatore Corporation has provided 464 computers for the project.