Maureen McTaggart meets a teacher of 'first-generation learners'
Any educator who still doubts the power of technology to motivate and engage students should have a word with Indian teacher Krishna Sharma, one of the finalists in the Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Education Forum Awards.
Armed with a laptop bought with a state loan she is paying for over 15 years, this science teacher has her 215 students so enthused by learning that absenteeism in her class is nil and learners are often reluctant to go home at the end of the school day.This might sound unremarkable until you hear that when Krishna joined the Government High Secondary in Masudpur she would have considered herself lucky if any of them stayed beyond one lesson. “Masudpur is a farmer-dominated area where parents do not want to send their children to school because they think they are better off staying at home to help bring in the food crops,” she explains.
“And the normal chalk-and-board method of teaching was failing to capture the students’ imagination, so even if they came to school they’d only attend for one period, one class and just run back home to the farm.”
Fast running out of options to keep learners on task she says the answer hit home during a technology in education course at the local Microsoft Academy. But, being convinced that using computers to demonstrate mathematical and science concepts would help keep her students’ attention, came with its own problems. Even if money was available to bring technology to the school, there was a distinct lack of electricity in the ten-room building and no immediate plans to shift it into the modern age. Government High Secondary’s pupils were in danger of being by-passed by 21st century learning.
Never one to baulk at a challenge, Krishna, also from Masudpur and a trained lawyer as well as a teacher, decided there was only one thing to do. Buy a laptop – with a long battery life – and create small digital, highly visual and interactive presentations to demonstrate (instead of explaining to her students) mathematical and scientific concepts such as crystal structures.
“When I became a teacher and came back to my village I realised the challenges to learning were still the same as they were when I was at school,” she says. “But I had personally benefited from the impact technology has on learning so wanted to give my pupils the experience. When I put my laptop in the centre of the classroom and the children gather around, it is so easy for them to be able to understand what I am trying to teach. They have never been exposed to going out and learning-by-doing projects or had even gone to see a film, so for them this is ‘Wow, it’s so good!’ And the children are coming to school now and they are staying.”
There are 20 schools in Krishna’s neighbourhood and she has set herself a new task. She is planning to train at least two teachers from each school to use technology effectively back at school and she says that, with her "Solid State" presentation being chosen from more than 100,000 entries to be one of the Indian representatives at the Innovative Education Forum Awards, it is ample vindication of the power of technology to overcome some of the barriers to learning.
But more important since her introduction of the digital presentations, test scores among her students have gone from 50 to 80 per cent and have attracted the attention of the local authority. As a result, the electricity supply to the school has now been sanctioned and there is a tentative offer from the state of five computers, which should please Krishna’s colleagues. And with her laptop, a major personal investment, she is bringing the message of the power of computers to the parents of her students by creating a series of digital lessons on hygiene and Aids which she takes to the community and neighbouring schools.
“Other teachers in my school are getting jealous and want to know why my classes are so popular with the students,” she says. “When I was leaving for Cape Town some of them jokingly asked me to take their lessons too when I return so I’ve decided to work as a peer coach for both my colleagues and neighbourhood schools. In addition I will collaborate with my other subject colleagues to convert the chemistry curriculum into a digital format.”
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