“How are you? I am fine,” ten-year-old Rajesh enunciates clearly.
Pointing to the computer screen in front of him, he says, “That’s what I say when Miss talks to me.” For Rajesh and friends from a government school in a village near Perambalur, the fundamentals of English, Science and Mathematics are taught by teachers as far away as Greece, China and United States and closer home from Chennai and Bangalore – all with the help of the Internet, a webcam and Skype.
Bridging the gap between rural and urban students is an initiative that connects children in interior villages with volunteers, who can make learning interesting. Students from government schools in Jeeyapuram in Tiruchi, Thenur and Vidyashram in Perambalur and Ambasundaram in Tirunelveli experience teaching that is far from the conventional methods they are used to. “Students drop in for an hour after school every day. Teachers use YouTube videos and discussion board to work out sums, screenshots of web pages and models to explain concepts better,” says Chinnappan, a school teacher and coordinator of the Jeeyapuram centre that has entered its third year.
The initiative is undertaken by a non-profit organisation – eVidyaloka – that partners with local NGOs and community workers to implement the programme. Outside the State, the programme is under way in Juvvalapelam near Guntur, Andhra Pradesh and Tikratoli, Jharkhand. Students between Class VI and VIII are the target group as there are many dropouts in village schools after Class VIII, says Satish Viswanathan, co-founder eVidyaloka.
“The initiative hopes to inspire these children to pursue higher education,” he notes. The Skype classes are designed to supplement the school syllabus.
As technology is the mainstay of the initiative, unscheduled power cuts, slow internet speed and absence of broadband in villages have interrupted regular classes.
The latest centre added to the list where classes were conducted through the audio format for a year has started Skype classes with 3G dongle now.
Though hampered by challenges, the two-year-old initiative is driven by the passion of volunteer teachers, feel Bangalore-based co-founders Sathish and Venkatramanan Sriraman.
With the initiative expanding to other States, volunteers conversant with technical terms in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi and other regional languages are in demand.