Indian village uses Skype for schooling

In the poor village of Chamanpura in the struggling state of Bihar,  having internet access for school usage is never really an option and is a luxury awarded to few. Electricity is never readily available and keeps getting cut and once an internet connection is established, the output is crackly, transmitted through faulty hardware resulting in a poor transmission. But, for the underprivileged Indian students of Chamanpura, this is the only way to receive tuition.

Some 970 kilometers away, in a two story-house in the New Delhi suburbs, Santosh Kumar uses the Skype software application to teach maths to the children of Chamanpura who are relying on him despite the technical difficulties. Kumar, a successful 34-year-old engineer, grew up in Chamanpura village before battling his way to a place at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and on to a well-paid job in the Indian capital.

“It’s an uphill task to bring education to villages,” Kumar added, recalling his teenage years when he would have to cycle for eight miles to a college in a nearby town. Kumar’s cousin Chandrakant Singh, also now a well-paid engineer, decided during a trip back to the village to set up a school for children aged between 6 and 12.

“I wanted to provide a world-class education to students in the remotest place on Earth,” said Singh, who remembers studying at night under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. “The world’s greatest teachers don’t want to go there, so I thought maybe we could use technology to help our students learn faster,” he adds.

Unfazed by the fact that Chamanpura has no mains electricity, or by the refusal of experienced teachers to travel to Bihar, Singh approached his friends for donations to fund the Chaitanya Gurukul boarding school. With some funding, he installed two power generators and organised training for 16 local teachers before hitting on the idea of using Skype to connect students with professionals across India.

The free Internet service allows the class to see, via a projector, Kumar’s tutorial which includes an animated tale about a greedy priest and a wily countryman to teach the students about numbers and the concept of infinity.

“The first time I did this, they were really excited by the technology, now they don’t care,” Kumar said. “It’s normal to them.”

The Skype lessons take place in the evenings after the day’s regular classes and at weekends.

Kumar was on board from the beginning, adamant that he could help the students and give them more “clarity” on what they learnt in class.

“Some of them were curious, others got intimidated, I had to work with them to rid them of their fear,” he said, pointing out many of them had never seen a computer before.

“Now it’s like television for them, it entertains them and hopefully they learn something,” he said during another power outage. “The technical problems happen often. It’s extremely frustrating but we carry on.”

During his maths lesson, some students appeared engrossed by the video, while others chattered inaudibly in the back rows.

But they snapped to attention during the question session, with everyone answering correctly.

“It’s a very different way of teaching, it helps me remember what I learn better than if I just read it,” Anmol Kumar Jaiswal, 11, mentioned via the two-way Skype link.

“I like these lessons, it helps me understand things better,” the shy Pragya Parashar, 12 adds in agreement. “I also want to become an engineer like my teacher.”

The school opened its doors in April 2010, offering admission to 500 students, 50 of whom pay nothing, with the rest charged according to their parents’ ability to afford fees.

Lack of infrastructure,  both technical and physical, are commonplace in the developing country, despite India being amongst one of the top emerging BRIC markets with a strong mobile penetration.



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