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How tech got rural kids back to class

With the use of laptops, smart boards, and shifting assignments and classes online, the urban education system is now more technology-inclusive than ever. (Reuters file image)

By Abhinash Mishra

The adivasi and tribal belt of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, is known all over the world for the beautiful Chitrakoot waterfalls. The people here maintain a simple lifestyle while keeping their culture and traditions alive. As a majority of the students come from tribal families, education is not given primary importance unlike other towns where the literacy rate is much higher.

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Educating and creating better employment opportunities for the people is a key way to uplift these regions. However, a challenge faced by officials like me is to encourage and ensure students attend schools regularly. There are over 13,000 students enrolled with 675 teachers in 230 primary schools, 88 middle schools and 13 higher secondary government schools in the Lohandiguda block, in Bastar. About 120 schools have only one teacher. Of the existing number of teachers on the roster, a few are well-equipped to teach. This has a direct impact on daily attendance of students as well as their retention ratio.

With the use of laptops, smart boards, and shifting assignments and classes online, the urban education system is now more technology-inclusive than ever. However, there is a vast difference in the exposure received by students in rural areas compared with cities. The technology penetration in these areas is also much slower compared to cities.
Against this backdrop, the head of block education in Bastar, with the support of local government, decided to introduce technology and start a smart school programme. This includes using projectors, smart LEDs and Amazon Alexa devices. The limited number of teachers is able to engage with nearly 7,000 students through the DIKSHA app, which has enhanced the knowledge of both students and teachers. DIKSHA app created by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) is a platform that offers teachers, students and parents engaging learning material relevant to the prescribed curriculum.

With the introduction of technology in schools, we have seen a significant increase in daily attendance of students. A key contributor was the introduction of voice assistant Alexa in our smart classrooms. In these classes, we noticed a huge interest from students. We decided to expand the Alexa use case to 40 schools in the district. With this, the average attendance in our schools jumped from 78% to 94% in four months. We also saw students were opening up easily and were no longer hesitant to ask questions. They ask questions like “How many teeth does an anaconda have?” or “what is menstruation?” and are delighted by the response.

At times, our teachers aren’t equipped to teach all subjects—using digital tools they are able to equip themselves with innovative ways and impart knowledge.

Digital tools like Alexa and DIKSHA empower students to openly ask questions, play quizzes, listen to music, or even dance to it. These not only enable overall growth in their educational journey, but also provide exposure to technology on a par with leading economies. Introducing technology in classrooms has helped bridge the gap between rural and urban education. I hope to see artificial intelligence and the Internet of things being brought to schools in a simple and effective manner. This will not only make our students job-ready, but also inspire them to be future leaders.

The author is assistant collector, Bastar District.

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