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Classrooms 2.0, outsourced

mumbai Updated: Mar 23, 2012 01:54 IST
Pankti Mehta

Abha Barve, a Class 7 student at the Children’s Academy school in Kandivli, finds concepts in physics, chemistry and history much easier to comprehend now, ever since her school started to use a professionally designed interactive curriculum. Each class now has an interactive white board, connected to a computer loaded with animations, videos and graphical representations of the study material, bought from a company that specialises in creating this content for school boards.

“I find that my daughter is much more engaged in school now,” says Pallavi Barve, Abha’s mother. “Concepts are taught using audio-visual tools, not just dry textbooks which provide limited information. She understands things faster and is stimulated to ask questions.”

Children’s Academy is one of the many city schools that is outsourcing course content and other educational modules to companies. Educomp is one such company, which currently supplies its courseware to about 10,000 schools around the country, including 250 in Mumbai. Educomp provides ‘smart classes’ to these schools, digital whiteboards loaded with an animated library of content, designed to suit the school’s curriculum.

“If everything outside the classroom has dramatically changed, there’s no reason why the class should use archaic methods,” says Abhinav Dhar, director, K-12 business and operations, Educomp Solutions. “It’s very important to make the best use of available technology to teach students—and schools often don’t have the resources to develop this content themselves. What we provide is a database of content, which the teacher can build upon in his or her own style.”

Specialised modules
While these companies provide elements for in-class subjects, there are others which cover different aspects of the curriculum. A company called KOOH (Kids Out Of Home) for example, has developed a special sports curriculum for Indian schools and provides them with sports performance technology, infrastructure and training for ten sports, including cricket, football, volleyball, mixed martial arts, among others, as per the school’s choice.

“Our research showed that 80% of schools preferred an outsourced sports programme. These schools don’t have a proper structure for their PE classes, and we give them a scientific approach to training them in fitness,” says Shrikant Hazare from KOOH. “For Classes 1-5, our certified trainers help develop basic motor skills in the students for running, jumping, walking, etc. For Classes 4 and 5, we teach them the basics of a sport, including rules and etiquette, and Class 6 onwards, we start training them in the skills for the sport.”

“KOOH’s innovative PEAK (Physical education and analysis programme)—currently deployed at Woodridge High School, Aurangabad, is intelligently devised and is very scientific, unique and novel. KOOH conducted an induction session for all parents on the right way to play sports,” says Monisha Bramha, parent of a child at Woodridge. “Children and parents have been counselled on the kind of physical activity that would be appropriate for their wards. More importantly, children are not rushed into sports, but sports education is imparted in a way that is age-specific, participative and relevant.”

InOpen Technologies, an IIT-Bombay startup, caters to schools’ computer education programmes. Its product, Computer Masti, imparts computer literacy skills through characters in eight languages, the e-book for which has been downloaded in 120 countries. “These characters are carefully developed, to challenge gender stereotypes and other issues, in addition to giving computer education. The way computer science is taught in most Indian schools is to teach temporary skills, like how to use very specific software. Our curriculum hopes to help them develop logic and comprehend the idea behind the software, to adapt to constantly changing technology,” says Rupesh Shah, founder, InOpen Technologies.

Role of the teacher is changing
With the use of multimedia to explain concepts, created by outside companies, is this a step towards a dwindling teacher involvement system?

“While the teacher’s job is made easier with such services, it creates a new role for her,” says Annie Thomas, principal, Sharon English High School, Mulund, which uses modules developed by Tata Interactive Systems, similar to Educomp’s services. “This is used only for a few minutes in the class, to explain or introduce a particular aspect of a topic. The teacher has to plan his or her lesson to use this as a building base, and even read further than the syllabus to field the questions that students are stimulated to ask.”

“What’s important for the teacher is to know where to draw the line, and how much of these aids to rely on,” says Sheela Mallya, principal, Children’s Academy. “Since these modules are developed by outside companies, a certain module may be too detailed or too amateur for that particular class. The teacher needs to examine each module carefully before using it, and find alternate methods if it doesn’t work.”

“A lot of companies are providing such software to schools, but one shoe doesn’t fit all,” says Vandana Lulla, principal, Podar International School, Santacruz, which plans to introduce courses on the iPad next academic year.

“I’ve seen a lot of these products, and while some are good for certain topics, others aren’t so good, because they haven’t been developed by teachers. That’s why I haven’t contracted any company for our school, but have teachers use free resources they deem good enough—YouTube videos, open-source courseware, we even develop in-house applications for classes. In that way, the teacher is encouraged to source material for himself or herself, and the class is also more effective. For instance, it will make sense to use visual aid to teach children about the digestive system, but if you’re teaching them about butterflies, no animation can compare to going outside and showing them the real thing.”