Phaltan: two years on it’s an international affair

Today (3 December 2016) is Phaltan Lab’s 2nd birthday. The Granny Cloud was active at this location for over a year before the lab was set up and today we share this lovely blog from Granny Edna Sackson, who knows the children there well. We find out what happened when her class in Australia linked up with India for some lively sessions over Skype! This summer, she also got the chance to meet the children in person for the first time and you can read more about it at her blog link below.

“Hands on heads. Now shoulders. Where are your shoulders? Well done!”

This is the first time Jess and Tyler, two Aussie Year 6 students, interact via Skype with preschoolers at Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan (KNB), Phaltan as part of the Granny Cloud project. The little ones on the other side stare wide eyed at these two strangers on the screen. Who knows what they they are thinking!

On the Phaltan side, the session is facilitated by 13 year old Shruti, whose English and computer skills were enhanced by her own Granny Cloud experiences over a number of years. She confidently guides, encourages and translates as required. This is part of an experiment to introduce this kind of exposure at a much younger age to gauge its impact.

After a while, the children begin to warm up and join in, first one, then another, as Jess and Tyler slowly introduce the body parts and sing the song “Heads and Shoulders, knees and toes’. Their excitement is evident through their muttered exchange of observations in between… ‘Heads and shoulders… the one in white is joining in!.. knees and toes… oh wow look at the little one in the middle!.. heads and shoulders…they’re getting it!… knees and toes… look, look they’re all doing it!!…’”

It’s an adrenalin rush that I recognise from my own Granny Cloud sessions, even now after all these years, that comes from a rewarding exchange with children when you see it’s going well and they are responding.”

After the session I ask the girls what surprised them. “How quickly they caught on. It was really awesome that we got to teach them. Can’t wait till next week!” And from the other side? Prasana, who’s researching the effects of early interactions of this kind: “It was wonderful. The little ones warmed up so quickly.”

Read more about Edna’s experiences with children and teachers at Phaltan on her blog, What Ed Said:

Blog post: The day I met my kids
Blog post: A different workshop 

Edna is an educator, workshop facilitator and learning consultant. She is also Teaching and Learning Coordinator at an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme( PYP) school in Melbourne, Australia.

Photos courtesy of Edna Sackson.

Phaltan

Site: Area 4 – Pragat Shikshan Sanstha (PSS) – translates as Progressive Education Organization Phaltan, Maharashtra

Located in the small, historic town of Phaltan, this lab is approximately 115 km from Pune in the Satara District of Maharashtra in Western India.

The lab, which opened in December 2014, was set up on the same site where the Granny Cloud originally beamed in to talk with middle school pupils.

This co-ed school, as its name suggests, is progressive in outlook and attempts to give the children a variety of learning opportunities inside and outside of the classroom.

Music and gardening are as much a part of their school day as are formal lessons. The children come from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, from lower income to relatively wealthy homes.

The school runs volunteer and sponsorship programs to ensure that those from the lower income groups are not deprived of an education.

The main language used in the school is Marathi, with English taught as one of the subjects.

The school PSS runs is located is Kamala Nimbkar Balbhavan, in an underprivileged area of Phaltan and has around 425 students. It has an outreach program that seeks to connect with other mainstream schools and the community to support child development in the critical early years (0-3). The school operates in two shifts with the preschool and primary school operating in the morning, and the high school from noon until evening.

The 6th Learning Lab is Officially…Open!

Today we are delighted to celebrate the opening of our 6th learning lab which is located in Phaltan, a small town in Maharashtra, India. Since Sugata Mitra won the TED Prize in 2013, 5 similar environments have been opened in both India and the UK as part of the global experiment in self-organised learning; the final flagship site is due to open in Gocharan early next year.

Initiated by Newcastle University and TED Prize, this lab is the first one located in a school where English is taught as a subject alongside all the others. The language used throughout the school is Marathi, which is the official language of Maharashtra state. “Imagine using an Internet where there is hardly anything at all in your mother tongue – that’s what it’s like for these children,” says Dr Suneeta Kulkarni, Research Director for School in the Cloud.

The new learning lab is specifically designed to facilitate SOLEs, where children collaborate to answer big questions using the internet. These child-focused learning sessions are fuelled by curiosity and discovery, providing children with the space and freedom to explore. It is located close to the school gates and overlooks the playground and residential area, so is easily visible to the local community.

Many lessons were learned from building the other learning labs and these have been taken into account during this construction, including the glass windows stopping at eye-level. “That kind of design where the glass is up to the ceiling is fine in the UK but there’s much more light here and it makes it difficult to see the screen – it also gets too hot!” explains Dr Kulkarni.

Connectivity, as with many of the more rural School in the Cloud sites, is one of the greatest challenges here and so a back-up dongle is being used in case the regular broadband fails.

As might be expected from such a child-centred environment, the children themselves were given a free hand with the furniture; they chose bright colours with red and yellow tables and green chairs. The room is also maintained and run by the Grade 7 students.

Using technology to help facilitate their learning is not new to the children of PSS; the Granny Cloud has been used there since September 2013, so the children are familiar with the concept of educators Skyping in to talk to them from all around the world.

Initially the children were very inhibited and apprehensive about doing a reading test in English. However, six months later everything had changed. “The same students strolled in with their heads high refusing to talk in Marathi,” says Dr Kulkarni. “Even when I spoke to them in Marathi, they replied in English!”

While exploring the internet as part of their Granny Cloud sessions, the children quickly progressed enough to realise that Google translate was not always giving them the most accurate translation so they combined this with a Marathi Wikipedia and other sources to give them a more accurate result. This is one of the key proficiencies being tested in all of the learning labs – whether children can learn by themselves to discriminate between bad and good information. They are also being assessed on reading and basic comprehension and overall confidence levels.

One of the regular ‘Grannies’ to Skype into PSS is Lorraine Schneiter, who has been a big part of these children’s lives most Thursday mornings for the past year. Lorraine, who lives in Southern Spain, has a strong connection to India as she was born in Mumbai to an English mother and Indian father and lived there until she was 12. Many of her family members still live near the lab in Pune. “I understand the life they are living which helps a lot when I’m working with the children,” she explains. “They’re talking a language I understand. In some ways for me it’s about giving something back to India, but I also learn much more from them than they learn from me. It’s so much fun and creative; you can do anything with them and they just love it.”

The headteacher at PSS, Dr Manjiri Nimbkar, explains that the Granny Cloud fulfils a vital role in the school: “Many foreign students and other friends used to visit our school in the past. This enabled the students to talk in English and share thoughts with them. We had always felt the lack of such opportunities recently and had invited several volunteers to our school – but they are not easy to find. That gap is filled by the Granny Cloud.”

Almost the entire school will be involved in the School in the Cloud, with just Year 10 not taking part due to exams. This means research can be carried out on much younger children than previously (six-year-olds). “It will be interesting to see what happens with the really young children,” says Dr Kulkarni. “We’ve already seen they have none of the baggage of the older children and no inhibitions at all – these children had never used a computer before and yet walked straight up to it.”

We look forward to hearing a lot more from the School in the Cloud at PSS as they share their SOLE adventures with us.