This morning, we worked with five of Kalpana’s students from the girls’ high school as part of our effort to observe the ways in which people of different ages (elementary-school children, high schoolers, young teachers, and older teachers) approach and absorb computer education. The girls above, left to right, are Shivange (12th grade), Prachi (1th grade, though she’s 15), and Neha (12th grade). Some of the girls took a few classes at a local computer institute which taught them only the theory behind using a computer and provided no practical session; this approach, to me, seems fairly useless.

The girls above are Pooja and Rani, both of whom are in the 12th grade. All of them are interested in learning how to use computers to help them study for their upcoming state board exams. We started them on Word, showing them the same formatting techniques that we first took the teachers through. Tomorrow we’ll probably have them do an exercise to see how much they’ve retained and to solidify their skills.

Kalpana (above in an olive jacket and orange-and-white dupatta) naturally assumed the teacher role with these girls, helping them figure out things that we’d worked on with her. We do have to find some way to teach her separately, too, though, because she’s only a few days ahead of her students.

We also worked with two of the younger kids, Upasana and Shubham. I think they might be getting bored with the simple Solitaire, Word, and MS Paint skills we’re having them work on. If computer education ever becomes part of the elementary- and middle-school curriculum here, more kid-friendly software will have to be investigated (a thought which seems obvious in retrospect). This really isn’t going to turn into an issue until computers become available in these schools, because right now, the government is only providing them for high school students.

This thought process sort of begs another question, though: why are we working with teachers who currently teach elementary and middle schools? The theory is that government teachers here are so fluid that they’re liable to be transferred to another school at any time. Involving them in this process can only lead to additional insights, perspectives, and avenues of exploration.

In the evening we asked Divya, Neha, Menka, and Neeta to write a letter in Word, using a template, to their school principal, asking for classroom supplies. This exercise revealed something that I probably should have realized earlier – namely, that most of the women have trouble with writing in English. (This realization is again kind of obvious in retrospect. Despite seven years of Spanish class, I can’t express myself fluently in Spanish. Why should learning English be any different?) Divya, with her MA in English, seemed to be the only one who could think in complete English sentences. There is, I suppose, a difference between being able to read and understand enough English to navigate a computer and being able to think and write in English. The former is likely enough to transmit computer skills to their students.

Another thing I’m realizing is that women teachers here literally have no free time. Between their expected responsibilities at home (cooking, cleaning, caretaking), their government jobs, and the tutoring jobs they all take to bring in a living wage, even the hour that some of them are taking out to work with us is with extreme difficulty. This sort of schedule makes learning a new skill and transmitting it to their classroom a huge challenge. And until the government mandates computer literacy, principals and headmasters will be loathe to free up their teachers’ time to teach something that’s not even expected of their students.

All of the people that we’re working with are having issues with their typing. We should remember to build some sort of typing skills practice (any software recommendations? I have no idea what we used in junior high) into any future plans.

One final note: the writing on this blog has been pretty bad lately. I’m totally aware of this, and I’m not happy with it, but my focus right now is on getting my thoughts out in timely entries every day. Unfortunately, I barely even have time to read over an entry after writing it, much less to edit it, as much as I would love to be publishing more polished writing.