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Walking out of the forest into a whole new world

Note: This was originally posted on the old School in the Cloud website on 20th January 2016. The author Sarah Cossom was the media relations manager and is an honorary Granny!
QUEST is one of the collaborating organizations that now have 2 Granny Cloud Centres [Wada & Sonale], with several more in the pipeline. An idea that they had hoped to implement more than 4 years ago, QUEST staff waited patiently with simultaneous effort to get connectivity to the area where they work. The Wada centre came up in Sept. 2015. Since then, [in May 2017], they have begun Granny sessions at an even more interior area [Sonale]: Suneeta

A QUEST Balbhavan

 

SOLE is touching parts of the world that few ever get the chance to experience. One such place is the remote tribal regions of Maharashtra in India.

It took over three years to get Internet connectivity to SOLE Wada so children here can participate in Granny Cloud sessions, but they’ve been making the most of the opportunity ever since.

For some of these children, just getting here is a major feat: those living in the tribal villages travel for miles on foot with a schoolteacher from their homes in the forest. They chat with the ‘grannies’ and explore the world through the Internet every week, staying overnight at Wada afterwards.

Although Wada is only 120 km from Mumbai it’s in a tribal region and they struggle with resources – this is the only place QUEST Wada could get connectivity in the area.

Most of these children, who are between seven and 14-years-old, attend local Marathi medium schools. In each group there are also a couple of children who live in Wada and have learnt basic vocabulary and computer skills at their English medium school so can help the other children.

Pralhad Kathole co-ordinates SOLE Wada from his home using his own laptop. His aim is for the children to learn English by immersion in the language rather than through fee-paying English medium schools.

Pralhad says he’s already seen a difference in the children’s English skills since it started a few months ago and that although the tribal children were reluctant to come at first, now they love it!

Children learning at one of QUEST’s other centres.

One of the ‘grannies’ who has been chatting with the children since last October is Sheilagh Guthrie, who lives in France. “It is truly joyful interacting with these children,” she says. “They have a great sense of humour and are great fun to spend time with. It’s also a real challenge as their English is pretty good and they are very bright so appreciate being pushed – you can cover a lot of ground in a short session.”

The children at Wada are also pretty confident and not shy to say if they don’t want to do something. The varied range of ages and interests can also sometimes mean it’s difficult to engage them all at the same time, but the ‘grannies’ aren’t fazed!

“As it’s late in the evening for the session I run they can be tired and lacking concentration but they are still lively, smiley and happy children,” adds Sheilagh, who shares this group with Christine Majcher Inghram, based in the USA. “They make such an effort to attend that they deserve to have someone there to talk with!”

One of the memories which will stay with these children for a long time is when Sheilagh dropped an egg on her keyboard during a demonstration – not something she planned (and not that good for her computer!) – but it caused much hilarity at the other end. They have also spent time recently singing Christmas songs together and finding pictures of Wada together on the Internet.

 

A screen shot taken by Sheilagh in session with some of the children at SOLE Wada

There is also an earlier group at SOLE Wada shared on two consecutive days by ‘grannies’ Melanie Harvey and Anna Ash, who are both in the UK. Melanie, an early years teacher, says she tries to apply Child Initiated Learning to her sessions; guiding the students towards posing their own questions to develop their learning.

“I am always aware that they can vote with their feet, and so my first aim is to make it enjoyable, so they return!” she says.

Melanie told me that the first group enjoy reading and video clips, and tend to be dominated by one or two boys who have better English and are more confident using the computer keyboard. In contrast, the second group want to engage on a more personal level, love songs and games and prefer these to being pushed into thinking for themselves and will deflect (with great charm!) if they are pushed too hard.

All of the children in Melanie’s groups have been taught English at school, and are particularly good with numbers, colours and animal names. Most students have a laptop at home and have come along to improve their English. “They all can speak in simple sentences, but often answer questions in single words or lists,” says Melanie.

Melanie explains that her aim is to give these children a small window into another culture and offer them the chance to develop a different relationship with another adult at the same time as developing their English skills.

“For me, it’s about working towards developing the skills and attitudes they need to initiate their own learning and improve their life chances,” she says. “I read in The Times of India recently that over two million people had applied for one clerical post in the Indian civil service. To give ‘our’ kids a chance they must have something special about them. The more I build up relationships with them, the more important I feel it is not to let them down.”

This location also holds a special place in Dr Suneeta Kulkarni’s heart as she was onsite when she first heard Sugata was being given the TED Prize in 2013. “At that point, when I was desperately trying to work out the logistics of it all, I knew it was meant to be, and that somehow, we would find a way,” she says. “It took a long time, but it’s been worth it.”

The Granny Cloud works with the Quality Education Support Trust (QUEST) to run this SOLE. QUEST was formed in 2007 as a research-action organisation concentrating on enhancing quality of education in India. Working in groups, which is the essence of self organised learning, is also part of their own philosophy towards education.

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