Author Archives: Supriya Kumarswamy

Meghshala, a school on the cloud that looks beyond textbooks

Here’s a fact.

In India, one in every five primary school teachers in India, lacks the stipulated minimum academic qualifications to teach a class. A group of intellectuals decide to fix this problem using technology. The result is Meghshala, which literally means ‘a school on cloud’. Meghshala is a charitable trust that creates thought-provoking learning experiences designed and delivered using cloud computing.

The problem that is that teachers and students in government and low income schools lack resources, motivation, and skills to be effective. This results in poor teaching outcomes with students not proficient in basic math, language or science knowledge and skills. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014 report shows that barely half of children in grade 5 could read a grade 2 level text.   “The dire need for reinventing our teacher training system in the country got us to start Meghshala,” says Ullas Kumar, VP Education Operations at Meghshala.  The founders of Meghshala— Jyoti Thyagarajan and Sridhar Ranganathan—decided to equip teachers with advanced tools to create an engaging classroom experience for the students. Meghshala aims to accelerate student learning and ease classroom instruction by using technology as a medium.

The Meghshala team comprises of an enthusiastic bunch of eighteen people who have deep expertise in multiple fields, ranging from digital media and graphic arts to content writing and education. “Most of us have been teachers in government, private and international schools,” says Amrutha Murali, the implementation and partner manager at Meghshala. “The one common thing that binds us together is our innate drive to bridge the education gap.”

The name Meghshala aptly portrays the way this social enterprise operates. In Sanskrit, ‘Megh’ means cloud and ‘Shala’ means school, Meghshala, therefore, stands for ‘a school on the cloud.’ The name encapsulates idea of delivering thought-provoking learning experiences using cloud technology across different schools.

The charitable trust is currently based in Bengaluru, working with 15 classrooms and is planning to reach 219 classrooms, 520 teachers, and 6570 students in Karnataka by the end of this year.

Creative learning process

Meghshala believes in creating a classroom where students and teachers enjoy the process of learning. “Curiosity and fun are an integral part of any classroom,” says Ullas Kumar, VP education operations at Meghshala. “Our lessons are built to bring the ‘AHA!’ moments in the classroom for both the teachers and students.”

The unique initiative provides an adaptive learning solution called Teach Kits. This learning solution incorporates a deluge of multimedia content such as videos, images, real-life stories, activities and powerful questions. These Teach kits are hosted on a cloud-based learning management system which can be accessed by teachers across different schools. Through Teach Kits, Meghshala transforms prescribed list of topics into an exciting, informative and thoughtful curriculum.

“The virtual platform allows us to scale across borders and impact the maximum number of teachers,” says Ullas. “Our impact is gauged using data collected through phones and tablets used by our implementation managers.”

Meghshala trains teachers by supporting them with ‘virtual master tutors’ in class. “The support will be in the form of instructions which are customized to the level of the teacher,” says Ullas. “Teachers will also be provided physical support in the classroom to ensure better adoption of our material.”

The Meghshala cloud is populated with lessons on every chapter—from Grade 1 to Grade 10. All these lessons are taught with the skill of a master teacher, a person who has deep knowledge in the field of education or a specific topic. The units help students learn and recall facts understand the process, think about applications, analyze data, evaluate answers and envision creative solutions to authentic real life problems.

“Each unit will be informed by a set of basic values and ethical stances. Supported by our instructions, teachers will execute these lessons in class. Teachers will initially follow these instructions but will later be encouraged to customize and create new lessons according to their requirement,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala team encourages students to actively participate in debates, discussions, while showing powerful videos with relevant questions. “These kinds of activities help students hone and develop other skill sets,” says Amrutha.

Looking beyond textbooks

Meghshala has paved the way for students and teachers to look far and beyond textbooks. The Meghshala lessons give access and exposure to information to teachers and students which are not available in textbooks. The teachers who are working with Meghshala have been highly receptive and understand integrating technology within education is the way forward.

“The students enjoy learning this way. They like the videos and the activities the teach kits provide. They specifically ask the teachers to use the Meghshala lessons to teach,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala has conducted pre and post tests during its pilot project and witnessed tremendous increase in test scores. The company could see the growth in as less as four months. “Going beyond the marks or the scores, we see a huge change in the classroom atmosphere. Kids are engaging in discussions, teachers are conducting activities to improve understanding. It’s an engaging, vibrant learning environment we see,” says Amrutha.

Creating social impact

Unlike other reputed institutions that educate students with an individualistic approach, Meghshala aims at creating social impact by incorporating ‘learner profiles’ which push students towards realizing their responsibility towards society at large.

“For example, during the implementation of one of our Grade 8 Mathematics lessons on Simple Interest, the teacher delivering the lesson also created the space for students to empathize with struggling farmers and the farmer suicides prevalent in rural Maharashtra. The Teach Kit guided the teacher to ask powerful questions and propelled students to critically examine about the community around them. This whole exercise was completed whilst learning a basic concept of Grade 8 Mathematics,” says Amrutha.

Meghshala motivates teachers to create rich learning environments which in turn help where students become aware of existing social issues and collaborate to find solutions. The company makes an effort to inspire students to be a helping hand and bring what they have learned to their community and grow up to become responsible citizens. “We believe that a population gainfully employed in finding solutions to social problems will have positive impacts on the global economy and conscience,” says Amrutha.

Broadening horizons  

This unique initiative has received positive response from both the teachers and students in its partner schools. Meghshala aims to impact 100,000 teachers by 2020. The company further plans to expand its operations across the country and abroad. “In the coming year we are planning on expanding into Kenya and few other African countries,” says Amrutha. “We see our self as enablers of human resources. We dream that we can help set the stage for India to be a true leader of the global economy.”

 

PARI—a journal and archive of India’s ‘voiceless’

A screenshot from the PARI website (P.C.- PARI website)

A screenshot from the PARI website (P.C.- PARI website)

By Supriya Kumaraswamy

“This country and this society runs on the labor of very poor people, not on yours and mine,” P. Sainath, the founder-editor of People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) and veteran development journalist, said at the launch of the website on Saturday.

PARI comes into the picture at this juncture. It tells the everyday tales of the trials and travails of these everyday people. It is an encyclopedia of rural India—or at least is attempting to be one—with an ever burgeoning collection that features audio, video, texts and photos. PARI now boasts of the only collection of its sort, with about 8,000 to 10,000 black and white images of rural India.

While urban India surges forward towards a more easy way and style of living, the ones oiling the wheels of this urban society are often ignored and pushed under the carpet.

However, Sainath said it was not a case of the forgotten poor, but a case of a blind urban India.

PARI hopes to perform a two-pronged role. On one end, it is an archive of India’s so-called dark underbelly that people conveniently ignore and the media doesn’t give due coverage to and on the other end, it functions, in many ways, as a living journal—a diary of-sorts to record the unique experiences of rural India.

The “highly hetereogenic and diverse” rural India is currently in throes of one of the most brutal transformations in history. Some of the most ancient cultures are breaking down, and many of the languages are going extinct.

Rural India, as Sainath puts it, is “a continent within a sub-continent.”

While PARI can be often mistaken for an extension of or something similar to the Humans of New York, the two don’t really have very many similarities beyond an extent.

PARI is attempting to make the people of the country not just aware but also appreciate and educate the back-breaking and herculean efforts made by these very ordinary people of the country.

PARI does not just focus on the rural population. It also focuses and highlights the plight of the rural migrant in the city and what he brings to the table in terms of ensuring the city is in motion.

“I am not trying to speak for them,” Sainath said about PARI. “I am just telling you that they have something to say. Do you want to listen?”

Sainath through PARI is trying to bring into media focus the bottom five percent of India’s population.

In a nutshell, PARI aims to capture the ugly, the barbaric, the beautiful and the to be cherished stories of rural India and its wide diaspora.