When Indian educators visited Cambodia, ANJANA RAJAN sat in on the class

So many of us have suffered in maths class that to meet a maths teacher is almost enough to send ripples down the spine. Not so, however, when you meet Monika Jain, who teaches maths at Delhi's Doon Public School. Monika has a genial smile - and well she might, having been awarded under Microsoft's Innovative Teachers' programme two years running - and teaches with the help of IT. And who finds teaching with animated drawings boring or intimidating? Monika has just returned from Siem Reap, Cambodia, where with nine other teachers from India, she attended the Microsoft Regional Innovative Teachers' Conference - 2007. There, the group met their counterparts from countries of the Asia Pacific region where Microsoft runs similar teacher training programmes to the one in India - Project Shiksha - aiming to extend IT education to the largest possible number of schools.

Open competition

While Project Shiksha focuses on government schools, the competition for the awards is open to all teachers using Information and Communication Technology, ICT, in their work. In Delhi, where the best equipped schools are often the privately funded ones, it is not surprising that the winner was from one such school (though, interestingly, she is a government school product herself). However, Microsoft has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and aims to reach 12000 teachers in five years, say company officials. But these statistics should not take away from the credit due to teachers like Monika. Some like her may have trained in the use of computers using their own means rather than the free facilities extended by Microsoft, but the Indian education system as a whole suffers from a lack of innovative teachers, and to find even a handful in the ocean that is India is a hopeful sign. Come to think of it, if innovative teaching came naturally to well-equipped schools, American Les Foltos, one of the judges at the Siem Reap conference, might never have created the Peer Coaching Programme, now licensed by Microsoft. Foltos, invited to India under Microsoft's Partners in Learning programme, laughs at how "teachers say I won't introduce technology or the Internet until I know more than the students." Adults also resist collaboration, which is one of the pivots of the Microsoft initiative, which aims to build an online community of teachers and education policymakers. When his son wants to check on information, he goes on Instant Messenger, says Foltos, whereas traditional education systems ban such devices. Also, he warns, "We can't assume that simply by installing the technology we're going to get there." Critical thinking has to be taught. And technology without the requisite mentoring leads to a sort of electronic version of traditional teaching, says Foltos, who will participate in the Peer Coaching programme with the goal "to offer a more effective form of professional development than just teaching them Excel and Powerpoint." It is the extension of teaching that Monika found one of the biggest advantages of attending the Regional Conferences. It is not just about making your own subject interesting, she says, though she has with her colleagues, made 60 lesson plans using the Powerpoint software.

Awareness programme

"When I came to Seoul (where the 2006 Regional Conference was held), I saw how much work people were doing for society. I realised I must go beyond my own subject. Then we started the Empowering Mothers Programme in our school." Under this volunteer project, Monika initiated an anti-female foeticide campaign. "We have non-working mothers and some students," she explains. Though working in a relatively well-off neighbourhood, she warns against the delusion that the killing of female foetuses happens only in rural or poor areas. "We have a tie-up with hospitals and till now we have reached around 665 people," she states. Jacinthe Robichaud, Director, Partners in Learning, Microsoft, and a lifelong teacher from Canada, nails the point when she says, "The ministry of education should have just one sentence: `Education should instil a love of learning'." It really is as simple as the click of a mouse.