Friday, December 3, 2010

Madhya Pradesh

Education for Education (EFE) is doing well in MP, and I saw several centres where the volunteers learned the basics of computers. When I asked about the last module, where they are supposed to learn how to use the Internet and email, I was shown a sort of webcast with Google searches and the process of setting up a gmail account. But why were they not using html files with hyperlinks to give them a real experience of surfing the Net?

There was no reason, it turned out, so back at the office I tried to show how this could be done. Using HTTrack, a programme for downloading all the links on a web page wasn't very successful, but at least I showed it in principle. If I can more or less do this on my own, it can certainly be no problem for the guy in charge of the software to make an offline pseudo Google web page, with a set of predefined searches, as well as Wikipedia searches, news, Government web pages etc. (in Hindi, of course!). In the meantime, I'm working on making a simple proof of concept, which will clearly show how this would work.

To get entrepreneurs for the programme, they had painted slogans on the walls in villages inviting people to "teach 25 children - learn computers". They also painted a small blackboard on these walls, where teachers would write difficult words in Hindi (different from the local dialect).

Apart from the EFE I went to some rural schools, were the children were sitting in a circle with the teacher ("volunteer", technically speaking...). They taught Hindi and math every alternate day for two hours, including half an hour of English every day.

As is usually the case, space was a problem, but two classes were made to fit into one room, or they used the courtyard. They used the CAMaL materials and textbooks, but no storybooks.

In Bhopal, however, there are 62 libraries with plenty of storybooks, and the one library I visited showed a quite impressive record: all the 110 library users borrowed about 3-5 books every month, the record book indicated. As in the other collections of books I've seen, there were a handfull of books from Read India. The libraries double as a Read To Learn (R2L) classes for about 25 children, who are taught for one hour a day. The librarian spends another hour on roaming around" in the basti to chase up books, talk to parents and motivate children to read and study.

I'd be surprised, I must admit, though, that I'd be surprised if all the other 61 libraries are as well-working as the one I saw, with an equally dedicated librarian. But perhaps they are, and at any rate, they are certainly a step towards more reading and learning for thousands of children in Bhopal.

Learning about the library programme, as well as the success of EFE, I thought about what knowledge and experience is shared across state borders within Pratham, and between state Pratham offices and the outside world. I'm sure Pratham central tries to connect different states and learn from best practices, but where is the horizontal cooperation, learning and sharing? Might a wiki be of help, both to link different states and lower functionaries together, but also to share Pratham's work and resources with other NGOs, government officials and individuals? Oliver, who is in charge of EFE in MP, talked about making a web page. A wiki would take care of that without the hassle of a regular, stand-alone webpage, and do much more (potentially). I thought I would throw the idea out there now, and I'll get back to it in my final report.

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