Friday, February 24, 2006

C o m p u t e r s I n M y M o m ' s S c h o o l

I have a unique background. Both my parents have been teachers in government-run high schools. Currently, both of them are working as principals (head teachers) in their schools.

I have a bachelors degree in Computer Science and have plans of doing a PhD. For a few months, I had the amazing opportunity of working under Dr. Raj Reddy - a scientist par excellence and a visionary. One day, he has asked me a question, "Kiran, if I want to give a laptop to every student in the primary schools in India, how much would it cost me ?"

I am grateful for that question and for the few opportunities when I had the fortune of talking to him.

This association got me to think of several things, amongst which is the importance of education for the development of an economy. And the role that computers and computer scientists (including me) needed to play in this.

The last month, I went home on a holiday. My mom asked me to come and see her school. A set of 4 computers have arrived through a government sanctioned funding (there were no computers till then), and she wanted me to study their configuration.

I have spent about 1 hour in the school compound. There was a prayer ceremony where the school children recited a prayer, said the national pledge and the news of the day was read aloud. Later I looked at the school library (a collection of 500 books in a dusty almirah), laboratory equipment (simple balances, conical flasks etc - all stacked up in another almirah) and the staff room. My mind was spinning rapidly throughout the time. My mom looked at me and asked "Why are you looking so lost ? Do you want to go back home ? " No, I wanted to stay. I was looking at so many things, thinking of so many things and the ideas were coming to me in a violent storm !

The 4 computers that have arrived were in sealed cardboard boxes. "Can I open the boxes, amma ?", I asked. No there were not meant to be touched till the government sends a person to install them. That goverment person has been awaited for 3 weeks then, he did not turn up yet. "Sorry amma, I cannot say anything about the configuration without looking inside."


How I wish I can go back home - to this town called Ramachandrapuram in the East Godavari District of Andhra Pradesh ! How I wish I can spend time with my parents - and understand their problems as teachers-in-charge for these schools ! How I wish I can help them to improve the schools, to introduce the new world of internet, wikipedia, e-mail, blogging ...

But here I am in Hyderabad - totally divorced from my life and my home. In a few months, I'd be going to Europe for pursuing a PhD. Forget the students of my mom's school. Even, my mom - a highly gifted teacher, does not know a thing about internet or about computers. Both her sons are computer engineers, one of them pursuing a research career. When I say that life sucks, I mean it !

"Amma, why don't you keep the library books on a table and ask the students to browse through them in the evenings ? No, the students will be too afraid to come into the staff room and look in this almirah ! "

"Amma, there is this very good software that gives economics and development data for all the countries. You should install it in the computers."

"Amma, there is this software that gives a virtual sky where you can teach the students about astronomy and the planetary systems"

"Amma, there is this new computer graphics tool that will simulate rigid body dynamics, and you can use it for teaching mechanics"

"Amma, there is this tool for observing chemical bonding between elements"

"Amma, in the internet, ...."

And my mind is spinning.. And my mind is spinning..

What do you think I should do ?

7 comments:

Santhosh said...

One has to work with the givens.
In solving a problem, designing the algorithm is more crucial than worrying about the implementation details.
So you can still contribute in a meaningful way, no matter where you are.

Who knows? In later part of your life, you might adopt the schools in your village and be an example for others to follow suit!!

For starters, please visit http://www.goodnewsindia.com

AK-84 said...

Hmm.. Instead of going over to Europe this summer, taking some kind of classes for those students is an option.. Taking classes after coming back from your internship is another.. :)

neverstable said...

hello vakibs

This is pratyush k (scriptman). Nice posting man....

I am also the son of a Headmaster.My mom is the head master for a upper primary school in khammam district...My mom gave me a laptop.Whenever i go to my hometown.I will go to her school and show them what they can do with a computers..Now those children know what is a computer? I have shown them the Niagara falls,Nile river. I have taken classes to the teachers in her school that how to use Wikipedia to prepare the lesson plans efficiently...

Do something for them....

keep it up buddy

v_tel001 said...

మీ బ్లాగ్ ఇప్పుడె చూసాను..బాగుంది

Yes, the fast paced computer revolution has already left many people behind...and it is of utmost importance and our responsibility to take it's benefits to the common man.

Quite related to this, computing applications in our own language, in addition to the foreign language English, are very much important. We hope to start a 'Telugu Computing Movement' to help spread the benefits of Telugu computing to the masses. This movement will be born in Hyderabad, and will spread to other parts of the world. I would urge all Telugu lovers to be part of this, and make 'Italian of the East' catch up with the technological revolution.

For more information on this movement, please refer to the discussion threads in TeluguBlog group. You are invited to join the group, tell your friends about it, and contribute your ideas.

regards
కిరణ్

పంచదారకన్న పనసతొనలకన్న ఈ తెలుగు మిన్న

Autumn Sky said...

Lovely post kiba! This is something that many ppl in our office are actually working on. Funnily enough, I heard from colleagues that whenever they visited a village school, they'd find that there definitely are a few computers. Whether they are being actively used or gathering dust is another matter :). But at the places that actively use them, it was noticed that the children actually tend to be brighter and more informed. Few thoughts that come straight to my head... There was also a stark contrast as to how much students learn when they themselves are using the computer and when they are just being shown something offhand by their teacher. The unfortunate reality is that in most of these places, there's no internet connection so learning off sites such as wikipedia or googling for info is out of the question. People have depend on offline methods of learning. Caching of info on CDs and posting them to these schools is a viable solution but needs research as to how to do this efficiently. Another funny thing is that generally you find ten or twenty students crowding around a single computer cos for the teacher at times, its an easy way to keep the students busy ;). In such cases, there's one guy/girl who actively uses the computer while others just watch and more often than not get bored. An interesting aspect is that girls tend to share computers while guys seem not to keen to relinquish control of the mouse :). Its obvious that a computer per child or even a computer for every two children ain't gonna happen, so we need more innovative methods for collaborative learning. However the most interesting part is that children learn the most when they are fed knowledge thru a game... it was amazing to find out the amount of history they learned and more importantly recollected immediately when asked after playing AOE for a while. Well those were some random thoughts that came off my head :P. I hope I made sense!

-Somu
PS: I had to create a stupid blogger account to post :P

Kiran said...

Thanks for the comments guys !

@santhosh: Thanks for reminding me about that website man. Long time since I seen it.

@somu: It's good news that guys in your lab are working on these problems. Rather than planning about what can be done when everyone has a computer, like you said, we should start thinking about now. I hope all these efforts go in a co-ordinated way.

And thanks for creating an account for my sake buddy :)

@khurana: I can't afford to take time off for this man. It is of a higher priority for me to finish my studies faster.

@pratyush : You are a little lucky man. Your home is pretty close by. Unlike you, I cannot go home on weekends. It will be a long holiday if I go home. Due to this very reason, I am cut off from what's happening down there. So, I believe, is the case with many other guys, especially those abroad.

What matters is the timely help from us folks. I can always decide to help these schools after 4-5 years, but that will be a huge time lost ! India is on its sprint towards development right now, and we cannot afford to lose any time at all.

@kiran: you are doing good work man, I hope you are aware of my friends in the FSF-AP. They've released a GNU/Linux CD with Telugu interface (neverstable is one of the members) But rather than just GUI development, I think this effort should go deeper - towards Content + Collaboration + Connectivity and should target even illiterate/poorly-literate people.

Kiran (dhol) said...

hey vakibs..good one man.
I frankly feel that you should still go for higher studies.
This should be a long term goal.