From the Field

 “ReadToMe™ has helped even the weak and average students to read – Tarika Seth

In Coimbatore, sunshine was not just limited to the good weather but was found in every government school classroom. Beaming, confident faces looked back at us every time we entered a school. The children came up to us and had full conversations in English. They asked us about our lives, interests, dreams and aspirations as well as our fears. We had to take time and think of answers to some of the questions!

The teachers were unlike any we had seen in any other state. They effortlessly integrated ReadToMe™ in the class and encouraged the participation of each and every student. Every class we would visit would have the teacher using our product to the best of his/her capabilities and knowing just what would help each individual child to understand a new word or sentence. Each teacher had different praises to bring to the table when they spoke of the EnglishHelper™ reading solution. “ReadToMe™ has helped even the weak and average students to read. RTM is especially helpful for memory poems. In the first term exams, almost everyone got full marks in the memory poem section, because they learned using RTM!” said N. Selvabarathi, the English teacher of Corporation Girls High School, Selvapuram. We even had senior students of the same school come and request us to have RTM for them as well (RTM is present only for students from class 6-8 in Coimbatore). They told us how much RTM had helped them and how much they missed it.

 

“Students in my school come from a very poor background and do not have televisions, computers or cell phones at home. They see ReadToMe™ as a wonder and come to class with enthusiasm and excitement.” said Anbuselvi, the Principal of Corporation Girls High School, Selvapuram.

Another interesting trend I found in Coimbatore was that the teachers encouraged the students to come up and use the software themselves. Gnana Selvi from Corporation High School, R.S. Puram West uses a trick of asking her weaker students to manage the software so that they pay more attention and feel motivated. Lalita from Corporation High School, Maniyakaranpalayam askes her students to come up and solve their doubts themselves and thus most of her class can operate RTM on their own!

The conversations we had with the students made us wonder if we thought like them at that age. Nagaveni a student of class 8 said she wanted to study English because “there is a view that English is only for English medium students. I want to break that myth and show that even government school children can do well in English! Before RTM we used to study only the questions at the back for the exam and by heart the answers. Now we can answer any question you ask us!” Alex, told us about his dream to be an Olympic volleyball player. “He used to be so naughty that he would spend days in the principal’s office but after RTM he has had a great interest in learning. He is always attentive in class now” said his teacher. Harinarayan a student of class 7 surprised us with her message to other students all across India “do not let the fear of difficult classes make you not come to school. Continue studying and work hard. Don’t give up!”

We won’t give up on our goal either – to touch the lives of one million students across 8 states with RightToRead!

 

 

Gujarat – Reading with Technology!

Kalpana Rajagopal

Picture this – A lab with an LCD, enabled with a multi -sensory reading solution, and a group of about 30 to 40 students reading aloud in English, in chorus, as the words appear magnified on the screen. Now picture this in a school in a small village, miles away from the city, surrounded by vast fields where accessibility is a challenge.Where even to use a phone one has to look for the right spot, and where students are mostly from the agricultural community with absolutely no exposure to English!  Yes, this is true! . True of every School (80) under the RightToRead initiative supported by EnglishHelper and sponsored by American India Foundation (AIF) in Gujarat.

 

According to the 2011 census, the average literacy rate of Gujarat is 78.03% and the female literacy rate is 69.68%. There are more than 36,000 primary schools for 18,000 villages almost double the number of villages in Gujarat and every child gets a school within a radius of 1 km. However education is not priority, and children are put to work as soon as they are able to instead of sending them to school. Majority of children in these schools come from economically-deprived families and most parents are daily wagers & labourers. Gujarati is the main medium of instruction, however students have to learn four languages in school- Gujarati, Hindi, Sanskrit and English!

What an overwhelming experience! Not sure what I was more astonished at – that the schools were almost 100 years old yet wonderfully maintained, that parents in these remote villages want their “Daughters “ to become “Bahut Bada Officers” and actually ensure they get time to study, that most Headmasters of the schools are really young, open minded, ready to experiment with technology or that the teachers teaching English were not necessarily from an English background, they could actually be Gujarati/Sanskrit or Hindi teachers teaching the Subject English!

The most novel finding was to see how beautifully the teachers and students have adapted to Technology in the class. Teachers, most of whom have never used a computer are now able to use ReadToMe (RTM) with great confidence and some now even say “I can’t think of taking any English class without RTM”!.  “Reading” here is synonymous with reading aloud with RTM.

There was praise for RTM in all the 6 schools visited. The confidence level of the English teachers, their commitment towards the cause of teaching English through RTM was quite apparent. With RTM they said “they were able to retain the interest of the children, make the lesson enjoyable and ensure students participation throughout the lesson.”

The students just love engaging with RTM.Their favourite tool is the “picture dictionary”. They stopped teachers frequently requesting to look up the picture of some words from their chapters. They love the spirit of competitiveness that RTM provides in ample- reading competition, pronunciation competition, spelling competition etc., Their confidence level was completely on a different plateau. Students who could speak English alphabets till about 2 years ago are now able to introduce themselves, talk about their family, and what they want to become, when they grow up.

Despite their several challenges where a “Dev Thakur” cook’s food for his ailing mother before coming to school, where “Neha Thakur” who has no parents and lives with her uncle has to cook clean pack and deliver food to the fields before coming to school, where “ Kinjal Chawda” who lives with her really old Grandmother rushes home during “recess” to finish washing and feeding her, they just love coming to school. They are all of 11 or 12 years. These students are bright (adorable) and thrive when given the opportunity.

Regardless of  the fact that English is taught as a language in Gujarat Government schools only from class 5 onwards, the need and requirement for software enabled English learning has never been felt as much, as it is now.

Kalpana Rajagopal

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purulia – Picturesque and Passionate – Tarika Seth

When we got off the train, the sun had just about risen into the sky and we were greeted by a big yellow sign board that read ‘Purulia’. After piling into our tuk-tuk, luggage and all, we moved through narrow streets where vendors were setting up their little mats on either side of the road with a small choice of vegetables.

Purulia, we soon found out, was a land of unimaginable and limitless shades of green. For the four days that we were there, we must have spent a minimum of 3 hours a day travelling to and fro from schools with nothing to look out to but endless fields, small water bodies, train tracks and cattle. Sometimes we would not see anyone except a lone cyclist for hours on end and we would be able to confirm if we were going in the right direction.

Another thing we learned was that in Purulia, vehicles take action movie-stunt like turns, not to save the lives of countless puppies, chicks, baby goats and ducks that chose just that moment to cross the road. It is also commonplace to have goats and ducks of all sizes surround you as well as sit beneath your table while you eat.

The schools in Purulia were breathtakingly beautiful. Sprawling greens, over 100 year old trees and beautiful flowers surround the old buildings. Bicycles stand parked against walls and lined up in the courtyards. While picturesque, Purulia had its own set of problems. We visited a school that told us that they could not hold class as the electricity was only available on the other side of the road that day. They managed to call the people at the station and request a special line so that class could be taken. Most schools were suffering from a lack of teaching staff as with the new regulations, teachers are now scrambling to finish their B.Ed. We noticed that many principals were taking class themselves to cover for the shortage.

According to the 2011 census, the average literacy rate of Purulia is 64.48% and the female literacy rate is 50.52%. The students here are mainly first generation learners who come from either tribal or agrarian backgrounds. We even met a student Shamfala, who was one of the first few of her tribe (Machual) to have ever been sent to get a chance at an education. Their parents usually work on their fields, rear cattle, work in some sort of construction or sell basics like meat, vegetables or grain.

Some of the children we met travel more than two hours to reach school every day.  We were told by the teachers that for most of the children, the only learning they did was at the school as when they returned home, they would either work in the fields or look after cattle. Lakshmi Paul, a student of class 5, told us how she would go home, cook for her family, fetch water, do her homework and repeat the cycle.

It took us a while to be able to talk to some of the female students in the more remote schools. Only after a lot of coaxing did some of them open up. Many of them came and spoke much more freely when the rest of the class had left and we were reminded that learning, is never done out of context. The math teacher of Ichag high school (who had also come to observe the class) explained “You see, they are very nervous. They speak Bengali, their local language which is either Kurmani or a variant of Oriya, Hindi and then English. You can say English is their fourth language!”

I was very nervous myself, speaking to the students in my very broken Bengali. They usually sensed my discomfort and automatically switched to Hindi or basic English, without me asking. The Pronounce Tool and the Picture Dictionary are huge favourites in Purulia. Adarsan Mahato, a student of class 5, put it perfectly “I can hear clearly and everything is repeated. I love seeing the pictures. I don’t feel scared asking the teacher to hear or see something again and again. Whatever your problem, the computer will help!” Asitbaran Goswami, the English Teacher told us about a particular student’s development due to ReadToMe™ classes. “Since Prabin came to study in this school, he has always been studious and silent. After RTM, he is now much more participative and active in class. He is not shy and can confidently express himself.”

We saw glimpses of what he was talking about during our class observations. Students confidently asked us about ourselves, offered to take us home for a meal and even to the close by historical sites. While a little shy at first, when it came to a ReadToMe™ period, the whole class would come alive and read loudly. There would be many hands up waiting to be called on to read alone in front of the whole class. Nitish Kumar Suren from Baragram High school remarked “It is a very nice feeling when sir calls on me to read. I love getting every word correct.”

It was this passion for learning as well as teaching and the positivity that surrounded us which made our journey with RightToRead so much more fruitful. We know that we will remember many a conversation had here for years to come.

Field Notes from the City of Joy – Tarika Seth

When you are walking up the stairs into schools in Kolkata, you are always met with beaming faces and a hundred ‘good mornings’! And you can feel the excitement in the air even before you sit down for an English class in the lab.

 

Whether it is Thakurpukur, Cossipore or Sealdah, the feedback we have received for ReadToMe™ (RTM), our technology enabled reading solution, is tremendous. After meeting the headmasters and headmistresses, you can see the strong leadership they are providing and the importance being given to teamwork; because they firmly believe that RTM is not only helping their students but also empowering their teachers to be more effective and comfortable with technology.

 

The school coordinators and teachers who have championed our cause inspire us with their seamless integration of teaching and learning into a class in the lab. They are ever comfortable with the software, knowing exactly when to use which tool to make the students relate better (the City favourites seem to be the Picture Dictionary and Translation tool!).

 

The students, the real heroes, always make a school visit worthwhile. Their enthusiasm and the sound of them collectively reading the text can give you Goosebumps. And they always unanimously agree that they love RTM as it helps them understand better. Dola Mukherjee, a student of class 5, in Barisha Vivekananda Girls High School said, “(RTM) says it so beautifully, I can understand it because it is very simply and I can now read without too many problems.”

 

Kolkata is definitely living up to its reputation of being the ‘City of Joy’!’

 

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