With no tables available, we decided to teach the children on the floor itself.
Nandurbar-Mumbai, 20 June: The significance of computers in today’s world can never be underestimated. Knowledge of computers is increasingly proving to be an effective means of development and empowerment for the less privileged. Consequently, lack of knowledge of computers could be a serious impediment to development. The Jesuits of Mumbai Province working in Nandurbar (400 km north of Mumbai) took a small initiative recently of teaching the simple basics of computers to primary children.
The Jesuits in Nandurbar have a social centre known as Janseva Mandal (Center at the Service of people). This centre has been working with the Adivasis of the region - Bhils and Kokanas for the past more than 4 decades to bring about their empowerment and development. At the centre itself, there is a hostel for Adivasi boys from class 5 to 10.
Being aware of the profound importance of computers, the Jesuits at Janseva Mandal set up a computer laboratory with 20 laptops 4 years ago. Here, MS-Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) is taught to the boys according to their age. The boys take keen interest to learn these. Encouraged by the positive outcome, the Jesuits decided to extend the teaching of computers to the children in the villages itself. Janseva Mandal runs tutorials for primary children in 30 Adivasi villages. These tutorials help the child to cope and progress in the system of formal education.
The objective of these tutorials is to make learning, during the first years of education, a joyful experience for the child. Out of these 30 villages, we selected 10 and thought of conducting computer literacy classes for children of class 3 and 4.
However welcome the thought, we gradually became aware of the constraints involved and needed to overcome them one by one. Firstly, of course, with no computers in the village school, we would have to take laptops from our centre itself. The availability of power too being highly uncertain, we decided to take 4 laptops with good battery backup. With no tables available, we decided to teach the children on the floor itself. So, the laptops would transform themselves into ‘floortops’ for the children.
Furthermore, it would be ideal that one or two children work on a laptop. Since that was a practical impossibility due to the difficulty involved of transporting so many laptops from one village to the other and the danger of damage as a result, about 8-10 children would have to share a laptop. For the same reason, these classes would be held only once a week in each school and that too only for an hour. All this also made us wonder about the relevance of this initiative. However, we thought that it was worth a try.
Considering the situation and the constraints involved, we kept our objectives simple and realistic, namely to develop among the children familiarity and ease in handling computers and increase their interest to learn more in the future. We began in November 2011 and continued till the end of the academic year in April 2012. We catered to 20 children per class on an average. Thus, the total number was about 200. Though we surmised that most of the children would see and touch a computer for the first time in their lives, we asked them to verify the same. We learnt that except for two children, the rest were actually seeing and touching a computer for the first time.
Children by nature are easily attracted to any kind of visual inputs. And when one adds to this the fascination of a device like a computer, the level of excitement reaches a new high. And thus, the wonder and enthusiasm the children showed every time we entered their class with the laptops was unbelievably palpable. Their eyes sparkled with delight as an enthralling, unexplored world unfolded in front of them. This experience itself eschewed any doubts we had about the relevance of this initiative.
During these six months, we gave the children the basic introduction (names of various parts in a computer, how to turn on, shut down, usage of the mouse, etc.). Then we guided them to use MS Paint. Being naturally creative, many children drew beautiful sketches and pictures. The picture children liked to draw most was a house. We thought that since this field was previously completely unknown to the children, they would take time to learn it. But we were completely mistaken. The pace at which they absorbed what was taught to them baffled us. As I witnessed this, a thought crossed my mind – probably, from the evolutionary perspective, the nervous system of the upcoming generation has been already well wired to explore the virtual world.
We observed that children who were weak in studies or slow learners were also able to handle and work with computers with a little encouragement and attention. We hope that the confidence they would gain as a result would also spill on to their other subjects.
Encouraged by the positive response of the initiative, we plan to continue it this year too. We also plan to expand to other villages if we mobilize resources for the same. We are aware that this initiative is a small one. But we think that it is relevant as it is proving itself to be a means of introducing a whole new and fascinating world of computers to children belonging to the marginalized sections of society. And this experience prods us on.
Jeevan Mendonsa, sj
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