Gouri Ajay Chindarkar was one of the first children in India to experience SOLE, in her village in Maharashtra. Seven years later, she’s studying for a degree in Computer Engineering at Mumbai University.
The 19-year-old says SOLE has played a ‘big part’ in making her life easier. Researching and quickly understanding any subject comes naturally to her and she is also able to communicate confidently with people from all walks of life. “In my opinion it is a better way to learn,” she says. “SOLE gives us very practical knowledge which can be used for our day-to-day life. It is the perfect place for those who want to learn in their own way and better their understanding.”
Gouri is in the 2nd year of her degree, which she tells me is ‘going very well’. She’s not sure exactly what career path to take when she graduates yet, but is considering working as a developer, testing and designing programmes.
Unlike in the UK, where recent figures show just 14% of students on computer engineering degrees are female (there are similar issues in the US), on Gouri’s course it is nearly a 50/50 split.
“I was interested in computers from my childhood and very early I decided that I want to become a computer engineer – when I was about 12/13-years-old,” she says. “SOLE is the main platform that helped me a lot to come close my dream.”
Granny Cloud sessions
The first SOLE at Shirgaon was set up in 2009 with the main emphasis on Skype sessions with e-mediators – the newly formed “Granny Cloud”. The main problem the children faced initially was language, as all their lessons were in Marathi but the Internet and the Granny Cloud sessions were in English.
Gouri says the first few sessions were probably “horrible” for the grannies as a result, but they persevered, and with a lot of encouragement all round the children’s confidence and communication skills slowly improved. The use of drawings also made a word or object much easier to understand.
“We learned how to speak, how to interact and how to express ourselves in front of others,” says Gouri, who would come in at 7am every Wednesday to chat with a very active Granny at the time, Anne Thomas. She also spent much of her summer vacations at the SOLE. She still communicates regularly with another ‘Granny’, Rodger Maskall, via Facebook.
“We were all were familiar with classroom teaching but when we knew about the Skype session I was very excited for the new way of learning,” says Gouri. “It was very interesting for us and there were lots of new things to learn. It was a big world in front of me.”
Learning new things everyday
One of the first things Gouri remembers about the SOLE is seeing a satellite image of her school on Google maps (which children still love doing in the India SOLEs today!) She then created a Yahoo email account and Suneeta introduced her to Skype and Facebook.
“Every day we were introduced to new things,” she says. “SOLE removed the fear in our minds about new technology. We learnt to try, to search and finally we found. It was a journey of attempting new things, learning, doing mistakes, correcting them and finally understanding what we have to do. SOLE was the source of that secret.”
Gouri told me that her memories of the time she spent in the Shirgaon SOLE are still very much alive and she is proud to have been a student there. “I really miss those beautiful days very badly and I want those days back… but it’s not all that possible,” she says. “I don’t know exactly how can I be involved (in SOLE in the future) but I want to be!
“SOLE inspired me to do something new and has done so much for me. I’d like to make other students feel the same and make their future bright.”
Shirgaon is a village in the Sindhudurga District of Maharashtra, India, 320km from Mumbai. This SOLE was overseen by Professor Sugata Mitra, Dr Suneeta Kulkarni and teacher Mr Shamshuddin N. Attar.
Read about Arun Chavan on the blog, who is also from Shirgaon, and was one of the original Hole in the Wall students, now doing a PhD at Yale in the USA.