Sunday, August 23, 2009

Nothing Giga about it.....

One way or the other, its all about the top. Or tops.

First they had the desktop. All that bending over table tops and staring up at screens gave way to the age of laptops. You sat with this thing on your lap, and while you convinced yourself that you were changing the destiny of the nation with whatever work you were doing, your poor tired thigh muscles would get an automatic heat wrap. In a fantastic inadvertent display reminiscent of old style gurus imparting knowledge to their disciples while conducting classes under trees , people in suits starting sitting with wi-fi laptops under trees , on benches, spread out on the lawn, and sometimes, actually in classrooms. By and by , I hear that something called palmtop made an appearance. Now of course, people have cell phones with Internet, and it has almost become a "fingertop", and of course, the desperate need to read your email, (as you travel in a crowded bus, 6 people at a helpless tilt across your shoulder, Julio Iglesias soundlessly hitting your ears, and torrential rain outside trickling in through the slit near your feet), cannot be denied.

The education minister of Maharashtra, recently made a startling announcement. All class 9 students (18.00.000) , across the state would be getting a free laptop. And it is a sorry comment on the integrity of the government, when the first thought that comes to mind on hearing this announcement, has to do with wondering, which industrial house is doing a deal with the ruling party, which manufacturer is about to get the windfall order, and how come a government that doesn't have money to provide the Mumbai Police with adequate facilities, municipal schools with repairs, school and college teachers with timely salaries , and so on, suddenly finds itself awash in funds.

Just like that. Like no one was asking or agitating for it. You never saw any debates on television or newspapers about this. No one formed human chains and stood in the searing midday sun with banners saying , "Give us this day our daily email", or whatever. And the choice of class 9 was puzzling. Most class nine students today, spend almost all their time going for special tuitions in subjects, slogging for tests in school, travelling to school in what resembles an obstacle race . That is, when they are not busy playing games on their cell phones, talking to some real and other surreptitious folks, sending and forwarding entertaining messages with double meanings, taking pictures of unknown interesting folks on their camera phones, posting on social networking sites, and listening to FM radio on the side. They are stuffed up to there, with physical sciences, biological sciences, algebra, geometry, 3 different languages, most of it learned by rote. The minister says that making the family "computer literate" was another side benefit.

I wish the powers that be clarify what prompted this largesse. And whether computer literacy is all about zipping through MSWord, Powerpoint, and surfing the Internet.

And if at all someone has studied how little children learn, and how to tickle their active minds into a questioning learning mode, using a laptop.

And how this has happened in a small hamlet (not big enough to be a village, 20 houses, 200 people) called Khairat, near Mumbai, thanks to the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project. Nothing Giga about it. These are small educational laptops, with certain bells and whistles, and a one room elementary school, and a single enthusiastic teacher. The cost is about 100-150$, and these are distributed through a worldwide project under the guidance of Prof Nicholas Negroponte and Prof Calestous Juma of The Harvard Kennedy School. Its not just teaching, but ensuring that the parents feel motivated to send the children to school, and arranging to bring those who have to walk 6 kilometres to do so. Its about igniting the light of discovery in the minds of the little ones, who go home to a dark house at night, because electricity has not reached them. And getting them to enjoy their learning so that they yearn for more, because it is fun.

It's all about parents feeling interested enough to take time off from their daily earning activities in the fields, and coming to watch their children learn, and discuss how they could help, with the teacher. It's about a child wanting to learn more. And doing it in a way that jells well without disturbing the lifestyle of the family.

Learning about the Sun as energy, and how it empowers your laptop, actually convinces those who have been worshipping the Sun all along, every morning, because your parents taught you that. Using a magical drawing program to write your Marathi alphabet, and do things to it. A recording facility that lets you hear your own voice, and wonder about it. And an inbuilt camera that allows you to take pictures, of the dog who sits on the schoolroom steps, as well as yourself singing . And sometimes the Internet shows you so many real pictures about festivals, sun, moon, rivers, great personalities, actors, songs , and so many interesting things. You can create virtual toys on the machine, and all you need is creativity. And so sometimes you create a toy cow based on Paru, your own household cow, and inadvertently give something called Barbie a run for her money.

An excellent report about this here..... A must read.

I hope and wish the minister reads this. And does something for the younger children . So that their learning is not a chore. So that it is fun. So that their young brains are excited, and the various learning mappings develop as they should by the age of 9.

At the end of the day, its all about Tops. Not Desks, Laps, or Palms.

But your own. Your Brain, up there at the Top.



    That happened in Madurai. The essence of education is to get young minds to think. And explore on their own.

    Make connections, draw inferences, and expand possibilities. These tools can help, but these tools need not be the sole goal. Its not as though, children cant learn otherwise.

    I bet you didnt see a computer and its powers till adulthood. And thats not stopped you from thinking right and making others think as well. So, i wonder whats all this focus on tools about.

    Perhaps it would be a good idea to get more people going into quality education...!

  2. I am confused. Especially because my daughter watches me use my computer a lot and wants to have one of her own too. Also because suddenly when I'm stuck for a spelling or information/reference, I seem to be reaching out to google for help instead of dodging my own brain as I'd have done around 15 years ago.

    Not sure where this is leading!

  3. Both yours and kavi's links led to marvellous stories of innovation and enterprise.

    And as one of the striking teachers who has been urging the govt for fair pay for the past nearly 40 days, I also have a lot of question marks regarding the sudden largesse?

    You are so right about the little folk and ways to learn 'at the top'.
    Our Rudd government in Australia has promised a laptop for every child in senior school - years nine to twelve.
    That's great as far as it goes in my book. However, there is shouting about who will pay for internet and maintenance of the machines ...
    June in Oz

  5. I have read about this OLPC project- nice to learn that it is going well!

    I like Kavi's statement- "These tools can help, but these tools need not be the sole goal."

  6. Hi, I'm new to your blog and I must tell you I'm so impressed and I liked the way you have put the information about your profession(nirudoyg) and all that. I'm digging more now.. :)

    You right in expressing about the Brain at the top. I never realized this and now your post has got me thinking :)

  7. I wonder also about so much time on the computer for children, and "virtual friends" as opposed to real ones.

    But there is no turning back...

  8. Quite some time ago I read about this project for children. I believe it was first started in Africa where the educational system was very rudimentary.

    I think the computers are given free by an American philanthropist and his goal is to bring backward areas into the 21st Century.

    The computer is here to stay and anyone who wants to get ahead must learn how to use it. Our doctors are using computers here and all businesses must be computer literate. I think it's a good thing that these children have a computer.

  9. Technology can boost a child's interest in learning and that in and of itself is a plus. It wasn't long ago that my Mom had a Promethian board brought into her classroom. The students love it and are a lot quicker to respond and participate. This isn't an "advanced school." It's the typical run of the mill, every day neighborhood, but it's catching up on technology and I'm happy for it.

    All that said, there's nothing more precious than using what God gave us "on top" and making sure that technology isn't a crutch. What a great post!

  10. Thank you everyone , for your comments on this post. Greatly appreciated ....

  11. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.