We worked with Kalpana by herself in the morning; since she was sick on Sunday, we reviewed some basic Word and Windows concepts to solidify the fundamentals. She’s planning on bringing some girls from her class tomorrow. My goal was never to teach students directly, because it’s a fairly unsustainable model, but I think it’s necessary to work with a few students to learn their concerns, strengths, and weaknesses, and to try to figure out the best method of teaching them.

In the afternoon, we visited the boys’ high school and met with the principal (above in blue).

The school has ten computers, but for some unknown reason, Microsoft Office has only been installed on two of them. The computers sit in the above room, mostly gathering dust; everyone seems to be waiting for the new computer lab to be finished, but no one really knows when that’s going to happen. At one time, they had landline Internet access, but their service was cut off when they stopped paying the bill.

The two teachers on the left above are Salar (social science) and Ashish (physics), both of whom seem to have good computer skills. Although we didn’t spend a lot of time with them, they were able to speak knowledgably about Windows, Office, and the Internet. They also know how to code in HTML and wanted to learn C++. It was disheartening to see the neglected state of these brand-new computers and to hear that no efforts were being made at teaching the students, despite the fact that two of the teachers know a lot. There just doesn’t seem to be any plan, or guidance with which to make a plan, geared towards using these (or any) computers for the students’ benefit. There is also a disconnect at the governmental level between providing computers and providing the teachers, lesson plans, and other resources necessary to effectively teach computer skills to the students. As far as I can tell, computer literacy isn’t a priority for the school.

One of the major challenges that we’re running into is one that, except for English, all of the classes in these Hindi-medium schools are obviously taught in Hindi. The teachers’ lesson plans and class materials, therefore, are all planned and written in Hindi – and Hindi computing is no easy task. Even typing in Devanagari within Word, though possible, is time-intensive; it is often easier to simply write out things longhand than to deal with the unwieldy keyboard mapping.

It may turn out that the teachers will find little use for computers in preparing materials for their classes. This is a problem to be solved another day. Although unfortunate, this fact doesn’t stop teachers from learning computer skills in order to teach their students. My goal is still to bring computer literacy into the mainstream village education institution.

I’d like to work with these two boys’ high school teachers, plus Divya – who also works there – to develop a plan to teach computers to the high school students and integrate computer use into their existing curriculum. Many of the administrators and teachers we’ve spoken to get stuck on the idea that, in order to teach computer skills, there needs to be a dedicated period and teacher set aside every day, both of which cost money and resources that government schools often don’t have.

We want to counter that assumption with the introduction of an integrated scheme, in which teachers might be able to require that students, for example, submit one typed essay a month in their English classes. At such a small scale, the requirement wouldn’t be a burden for students who don’t have access to computers outside at home, because they could use the ones at school before, after, or during scheduled class time (these details would have to be worked out with the teachers and administration). At the same time, they would be using the computers in a constructive and productive way, finishing schoolwork while learning a new skill.

The other issue that we’re running up against is that there are simply too many students for the number of computers and teachers available. Finding a solution to this problem will require more thought and brainstorming.

We also visited with the principal of the girls’ high school. There are four male teachers interested in learning computer skills, two of whom have computers at their homes in Chaatarpur. Starting January 2nd, we’ll be meeting with them on a daily basis to first assess the quality of their existing knowledge and then bring the other two teachers up to speed.

From talking to some locals, we learned that the primary school in Bijawar received computers about seven or eight years ago, and she had even begun teaching the students how to use them. The computers were slowly pilfered by various people who took them home to their families, and nothing was left at the school.

These little kids showed up again in the evening to learn how to use computers. The girl on the left is Ashi. I’ve talked about the boys (Gagan and Sagar) before. They played some Solitaire, typed in Word, and drew in Paint. We’re mostly teaching these kids because they’re so persistent – they drop by before school, after school, before going to tutoring, and after they’re done with tutoring. It’s hard to say no to them.

Later, we worked with Neha, Divya, and Menka again. We asked them to make a formatted grocery list, with all the things they need to buy for their household, in different categories. We also asked them to put prices and quantities next to their items, which caused them to run into a limitation of Word – it has issues putting things into neat columns. The effect is achievable with a table, set to have invisible borders, but such work is much better suited to Excel. The teachers saw for themselves what kind of task is better performed by alternative software, so it provides a great place to segue into teaching Excel skills tomorrow or the day after. We also want to start on the Internet soon.

We also started working with another woman, Neeta, who teaches at the government school in an even smaller village, Jasgowl. She’s been a teacher for eleven years. Her family just bought a new laptop, and she wanted to learn to use it. We’re trying to catch her up to the other women, and she seems to be doing well.