When I was a small girl I liked flying kites. They gave me a sense of freedom. As I kept my first steps in school I started missing them. School was fun but the studying part was not. I only remember memorizing books and climbing up the grades. Strangely I never knew why I was reading them and why I don’t remember any of it now. Since then I have been searching a way out.
One fine day when I was struggling through the hard chains of our educational system, I came to know about ‘School in the Cloud’. I applied for the position of coordinator of Gocharan SinC lab 0 and I got it. When I entered this organization I felt like a newborn as I couldn’t understand any part of it. Suneeta Kulkarni mam was the only person who kept me awake and made me strive forward.
I still remember my first day here. I left my house at 10.30 in the morning to reach the station. Local train was the most convenient way to reach Gocharan as it takes more than two hours by road. After 45 mins a train arrived at the station full of passengers. I couldn’t enter the train as most of the passengers were blocking the entrance. It usually stops for 45 seconds. I ran here and there to find an access.
Finally I could hop into one compartment. I was standing near the door entry as all the seats were occupied. Everytime I met Suneeta mam we never use to fall short of conversations talking about my deadly struggle in the local train. Sometimes she felt so bad that she would pick me up from my place to save the day!
As soon as I reached the place it made me remember my slum project experience which we had to do in class 12. It was a maze of crowded narrow alleyways navigating around excited groups of barefoot children and women washing pots in buckets of precious water just inches away from precious sewers. We find it hard to find happiness living in cities but these people were happy with helpful souls.
After walking for about 20-25 mins I reached Debangana nursing home. Suddenly I saw a ‘glass house’ just beside the nursing home. It was a huge beehive shaped building completely transparent from outside. There were 10 computers placed in a circular form inside the building and in the middle of the glass house there was a small glass room having a very big television. The television was surrounded by children who were almost falling over it to see something. It aroused a lot of questions within me and I was curious to know it.
As I entered the lab I found ‘flying kites’ again. Children were playing games, searching origami in YouTube, painting their views, reading blogs and much more! It was like a free sky for them. I loved the atmosphere and I was amazed to find learning happening around them. The idea was very clear. It was a self organized learning environment (SOLE). Children aging from 5-15 come here from a very poor background with limited exposure to English. They make themselves learn in their own way.
We basically have three parts in it – FREE session, a BIG QUESTION session and lastly and most importantly GRANNY session. In a free session children are given full freedom to explore the computer. They draw, play games, watch videos to make something creative or sometimes they just listen to a song that’s it.
Secondly comes the interesting part where they are handed over with a big question like for example it can be anything starting from why the sky is blue to why the ants always walk in a straight line? And immediately they get into groups and starts to find an answer by themselves by ‘Googling’ it and come out with absolutely unbelievable answers in one hour when they present their answers after that there is absolutely no sign of pressure or burden on the child’s face. It was fun!
Finally the most amazing part of it – the GRANNY session where a ‘granny’ or volunteer or educator or facilitator anything you call it makes a call on Skype. Remember I told you about the big television in a small glass room? It was the Granny session room. They call from any country in the world and communicate with these children.
The Granny Cloud is the most special part of the program where teachers, retired grandmothers and grandfathers take a valuable time out to spread the light of motivation among the enthusiastic heads of our living future. They start with a general conversation asking them ‘what game they played today?’ then switching over to an interesting topic or question about which they talk about to each other in English in the session.
We choose the word ‘granny’ here because usually the children connect more intimately with their grand parents rather than their own parents. Isn’t it wonderful? The idea seemed so technologically massive yet had a ethnicity to it. I don’t know how this happened but I also became friends with some of the grannies and find myself chatting with them whenever I feel like.
After completing one month here I heard a few faces (parents/adults) comment: “What is the benefit of playing games here – they are learning nothing”. Well they failed to understand the fact that the games they were playing had all its instructions, stories and levels in English which they did understand very well. I saw them a few times whispering to each other “this is how you do it, silly”.
Some of the children are doing surprisingly good jobs now. ‘T’ has been able to download Google Earth and show the grannies where Gocharan is whereas ‘D’ is currently learning java programming from a Granny. He is in 8th grade now but he has already made two programs and a calculator here. If one child is capable to making such happening things just by having access to a computer and just think how much a little motivation like this will be able to do if the idea becomes viral. Success is just a one click away from these children.
Well inspite of the criticisms and difficulties A0 Gocharan SinC lab has completed one year on 9th January 2016. Though it’s my fifth month here I feel I have always been part of it. Here with the Granny Cloud and children I found myself a family. I remember having quite a few cozy chats with Sandra, Camille and Jackie like I have with my mom when I am at home.
Whenever I am inside the granny room acting as an observer I feel myself proud being part of School in the Cloud project. Till now the journey has been tremendously enlightening. School in the Cloud is a sincere hope towards the possibilities of transformation of the education system and I hope to look forward to exploring it more being a part of it in the years ahead.