Five government primary schools were gifted smart TVs aimed at connecting the children to the world through 21st-century technology. The teachers can download the best available audio-visual aids to improve children’s ability to grasp and learn the subject matter.
The Computer Labs:
Two government schools, one with Grades 1-5 and the other with Grades 1-8, were furnished with computer labs as shown to the right. The furniture in the lab was specially designed to hold the CPU under the table leaving most space free for two children to work in a group. Both labs were officially unveiled in February 2020 and have been dormant due to the pandemic ever since. Efforts are underway to get these labs up and running.
At the most basic level, writing is empowering which truly begins with a pencil and paper. Vidya Gyan was surprised and saddened that children in their networked rural government schools were not writing much. Why? Because, many children had limited or no access to a notebook, pencil, and eraser.
The Pencil to Power initiative is the recognition of the fact that the skill of writing is as critical as speaking, reading, and listening for the holistic development of children in grades 1-5. Yet, many children were missing out on developing age-appropriate skills: writing letters and numbers; practicing math problems, and expressing thoughts through stories and/or sketches.
Vidya Gyan’s pilot in 2017 included the distribution of about 9000 notebooks, 5000 pencils, and 2500 erasers to all children in about 25 schools. Our overarching goal is to have the teachers engage children in “writing,” a lifelong skill that is critical for survival in the later years. It is unfortunate that the skill of handwriting is being extinct globally for assorted reasons. For example, it is the lack of basic writing tools in the rural government schools in India but relatively easy access to technological tools in schools in the United States which allows children to use their fingers on a keyboard.
Vidya Gyan has visited several dozen rural government primary schools in the past several years. The experience has been very telling of the environment which is anything but conducive to learning. A government school now exists practically in every village and the central government funds provide free lunch, textbooks, and dresses for each student. However, the infrastructure is often dilapidated, no furniture for children, the playground is a rarity, the libraries are almost non-existent and the teaching and learning aids are in short supply. The students attending these schools are generally from families in the lower-income strata and mostly underserved. The quality of education is perceived to be “poor,” not too far from the truth although not all schools are equal because there are many committed teachers.
Vidya Gyan’s “Adopt a School” initiative is aimed at making select schools more conducive to learning by providing resources. We have visited numerous schools to seek and assess teachers’ commitment to Vidya Gyan’s Savings to Secure, to learn the profile of pupils, and to seek better engagement with parents and community. Qualitatively, we found that the quality of education is directly related to teachers’ engagement and trust with the community.
A proposal process was developed in which the schools requested and justified resources such as classroom furniture, library materials, playground, projector, and other resources. Vidya Gyan’s first commitment has been in providing classroom furniture as a token of restoring the dignity of children and other resources as funds become available.
Building Pride: In contemporary India, most villages have both the government and private schools, the latter being better furnished but beyond the reach of underprivileged families due to high tuition and fees. The children in government schools don’t stop being perceptive and feel the difference such as classroom furniture, better learning aids, and sports equipment. VG saw the necessity of an improved learning environment and initiated the Adopt A School project aimed at the following:
Vidya Gyan plans to provide furniture and other resources with a long-term strategy to build a climate of better learning. We also hope that the neighboring schools will be encouraged to seek resources from Vidya Gyan thus fostering a spirit of competition toward community building and better learning environments.
This special initiative was based on the premise that the creative side of the human brain and the imagination have no boundaries if allowed to flourish under proper guidance. Subsequently, ‘Bachcho ki Kalam se’ was piloted in May 2017 in about a dozen primary schools targeting 10-12 children of grades 3-5 in each school (over 100 children). They were given art books and crayons and several themes, not required, but to choose from. Examples included- Beti Padhao (educate daughter), Environment, Water, Swachch Bharat (Clean India), My School, etc. It was their homework assignment for the summer break.
The research shows that generally if the left side of the brain is dominant, a person is “logical” while s/he is more “creative” with right side dominance. Our vision is to provide nourishment for both sides of the brain in the formative years of learning because one needs to be logical and creative creativity to succeed in the 21st century more than ever before. One of Vidya Gyan’s creative imagination was to have a book published using the children’s artwork as a testimony that children anywhere have the potential to be creative given proper guidance, encouragement, and environment. We believed that the poor image of government schools could be improved by showcasing the talent of the children. A poorly organized artwork from different schools did not allow us to publish the book. However, Vidya Gyan asks schools to have children use one of the notebooks in grades 3-5 to write short stories/essays about different festivals, national holidays, and/or prominent leaders and draw figures (or cut and paste images) during the year.
Vidya Gyan has continued distributing stationery supplies each year with a slight modifier of distributing premade writing books in grades 1 and 2 for children to practice letters and words both in Hindi and English. We have observed that the PTP is certainly making an impact on the writing skills of children.
EFFORTS IN THE UNITED STATES: In an effort to promote “writing by hand,” Vidya Gyan engaged schools and communities in the United States at the elementary level. A group of local children were engaged in a couple of community functions. For example, writing about Diwali, India’s Festival of Light, and another group writing their thoughts on, “I am thankful for…” celebrating Thanksgiving. Subsequently, we connected with an Elementary school and initiated the project “Building Cultural Bridges.” A brief report can be viewed here.
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