Schools

Bridging the gap

Venkat Sriraman was looking for ways to get back to his roots when he got together with his former colleague at Microsoft to start eVidyaloka, a ‘not-for-profit organisation that focuses on transforming the educational landscape of rural India’.

The Bengaluru-based eVidyaloka creates digital classrooms (with power backup) and facilitates volunteer teachers from around the world for school-going children in rural India with the support of local communities, in order to offer quality education.

“I have always been fascinated to see how technology can play a larger role in solving social issues, especially in a country like India. When we came together, we wanted to see if online teaching was a possibility. But we first took two steps back to see what was needed to be done in the education space in India,” explains Venkat, the organisation’s cofounder and trustee.

Bridging the gap
 

“We understood that despite the government having made progress in ensuring that 98 per cent of children go to school and offered nutrition and some basic infrastructure, learning in rural, especially government schools, is still sub-optimal. We decided to find out what the root cause for the poor learning outcome was.”

They observed that it primarily boiled down to the shortage of teachers as well as the poor teaching quality of the existing school system in villages.

“We then realised that there may not be teachers in the villages, but there are people who are passionate about teaching and want to give back to society. We could then bridge both sides and connect the two because online teaching is not an innovation. What needs to be done is make it available in the villages. If soft drinks and chips can reach villages, then why can't healthcare and education?”

Bridging the gap
 

They began with a village in Trichy, moving onto a pilot in five more schools before scaling up.

“Our core innovation is in the use of technology to automate this connection between volunteer teachers across the country (and the world) with schools in villages. We always go through a local partner because we believe in a a click mortar approach where we have a local contact person usually from an NGO working in tandem with the digital component. They become the physical interfaces of the programme,” he explains.

“That’s one of the key tenets that we found to be important to the success of the model – local ownership. Another important aspect of our model is that it is not a parallel system, we work with the existing government school system, where there is a dire need for teachers. We teach the same curriculum in the same medium of instruction.”

This means that the volunteer teachers speak, read and write the local language. They also choose two hours every week within school hours from wherever they are.

Bridging the gap
 

“All they need then, is access to Internet through a laptop or a tablet. Interested volunteers simply need to register on our portal. They undergo a screening process which includes self-evaluation, followed by a discussion with the team. The team then recommends them for their teaching roles and conducts some training, after coordinating with the local volunteers about the time slots, before the classes begin. Usually only one in five people make it through the process.

eVidyaloka, which is funded by CSR and donations, mediates the process of mapping and matching the teachers’ time slots with the schools. They also give teachers the required resources including the curriculum and the timetable. They usually conduct classes for children between grades five and eight, in core subjects including mathematics, science and English.

“One of the challenges we are facing is in scaling up evenly, across states which speak different languages. We are trying to reach more people and build awareness, we realise that most people are not aware of such opportunities, even in a society which is more inclined to giving. And so we are trying to reach out through social media and corporate sessions. We believe that once the message goes out, we would probably be able to bring in more people and reach out to more schools.”

They have so far set-up 100 centres across the country including states such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Maharashtra with their current model.

“We are now able to see acknowledgement from parents. Children in rural India are highly talented, they have less distraction and we are seeing so much retention. We have even had three instances (in villages) where some children moved back to the government schools. We need to restore the public school system.”

For details, visit evidyaloka.org.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 4:32:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/schools/bridging-the-gap/article21266198.ece

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