In recent months, a variety of issues and concerns surrounding The Granny Cloud and how it functions have come to a head. Many of these are concerns we have had to address several times over the years. But it is a dynamic situation and the people involved change (or their circumstances do), the context in which we function, and the related support available (more often than not unavailable!) changes, the organisations we work with change, the profile of the children we interact with changes, as does that of the Grannies who come on board the Granny Team.
The one thing that does not change is our effort to reach out in the most relevant and effective way. This means that we are constantly evolving. And we keep trying to develop new strategies and systems to help us achieve our goals.
For a short while, (May 2009 to December 2009) The Granny Cloud was supported through the OGEF Project – ECLS at Newcastle University. This project explored the possibility of SOLEs in the context of underprivileged children; mainly in Hyderabad. Specially designed labs had been built in over 10 schools ‘for the poor’, plus one lab in Shirgaon. Yet the very limited English fluency posed a huge obstacle for children to take on BIG questions. It was in this context that The Granny Cloud took shape. (If you would like to know more about this project and its findings you can find it here. https://www.academia.edu/3063029/The_use_of_self_organizing_systems_of_learning_for_improving_the_quality_of_schooling_for_children_in_remote_areas)
The project ended and with it so did the funding to the labs. The team (of close to 75 eMediators that had been put in place for this purpose) faced the question of how to proceed. All volunteers, we figured that so long as the schools committed to keeping the labs going, we could continue with our involvement. It did not mean any major change in the way we operated. (Well – other than support through my physical presence in the labs during Granny sessions from time to time because I could no longer afford the travel!) We could still Skype and provide support to the labs and the Grannies via email, Skype, phone AND the Wiki which continued to evolve as we kept honing the kind of support we could provide through it. We adapted ourselves to the possibilities it afforded so that we could be in touch with each other, as well as the children and share what happened in Granny sessions.(The Facebook group came a little later when Liz Fewings set it up in October 2010.)
Yet, as expected, we had large number of dropouts from the Granny Team. In the absence of support on the ground (in the Labs), many gave up. The numbers continued to fall as morale dwindled in the absence of committment from the schools and one by one, all the original SOLE labs shut down. This was a realisation we were trying to grapple with alongside of supporting the labs as best we could through our presence on Skype. But the reality was that the labs had been ‘given’ to the schools. The real committment to the idea of the SOLEs was missing.
But we truly believed in the concept. And we knew we had something to offer through The Granny Cloud. So we went about it differently. We spread the word – mainly by word of mouth and the occasional news item. (Times Crest). We welcomed on board a few organisations that had chosen themselves to be part of this initiative. This was the time we began our interactions with Rameshwar Wadi and KHELGHAR in Maharashtra, GLC in Varanasi, NeelBagh in Karnataka, Villa Mayor in Colombia et cetera. Not that the struggle ended, but we sustained the initiative with every strategy we could think of and could put in place. The ‘solesandsomes wiki’ continued to develop so we could provide support, outside of, but related to Granny sessions. The Granny Skype conferences were a precursor to the more informal and frequent Granny ‘tea parties’ and also part of this support. And we tried several platforms for our session reports and different ways of classifying the reports – ‘Posterous’ and ‘WordPress’ among them.
Following a nomination that emanated from The Granny Cloud, [Jackie Barrow did the honours) along came Sugata’s TED Prize in 2013, and with that some funding for The Granny Cloud which was happy to be part of this new initiative. The idea of having a special website for the School in the Cloud with a separate section devoted to the new labs as well as the existing, independent Granny Cloud centres was appealing. There were quite a few centres by then, including the one at Phaltan. We figured the synergy and collaboration could take the idea of the SOLEs and The Granny Cloud that much further.
The informal Core Team which had emerged in the preceding years began to wind up our wordpress blog as we spent a great deal of time and energy working with the designers of the School in the Cloud website to create the part that would handle all the Granny Cloud activities. That took us well into 2014 and more than a year after the TED Prize had been announced. Not to mention a rather a huge amount of money and professional expertise from a rather large team to set it up! It still had its kinks but that was as far as it was going to go. And we learnt to work around it – including scrolling through page after page trying to find a session to book. And no ‘search options’ though it had been a critical part of our request. And we still handled ALL Granny recruitment separately and manually as we had done since the beginning.
But as the TED Project drew to a close; another major upheaval was on its way. The website and its maintenance was now to be with SOLE Central at Newcastle University and they needed to separate the SOLE part from The Granny Cloud section, and for a variety of reasons, funding The Granny Cloud did not become possible.
So once again from October 2016 The Granny Cloud began to operate entirely independently, funding its own activities and began the development of its own independent website. A lot of what has gone into the Granny Cloud website is some Pro Bono, some highly subsidised, and a whole lot of volunteer work. We have added to it, bit by bit, and it is still evolving. It now has three sections. A public part for general information – a protected part for Grannies and coordinators, – and yet another protected ‘admin’ part that handles all the Granny recruitment. And it is still all being run by volunteers. The centres fund their own equipment, personnel, internet and maintenance.
Then of course, there is the interaction with the children. Our raison d’etre. As I mentioned earlier, the profiles of children change. Not only has the world around them changed but as their familiarity with and exposure to The Granny Cloud grows; they change. Just as we moved from ‘only stories’ to puzzles, games, and crafts in the first few months; we moved to projects, ‘search’ activities and so much more for groups that indicated the readiness to make that move! It did not end there. We experimented with (and continue to do so) group sizes, regular and ‘one-off’ sessions, the kind of support available through the coordinators or other personnel and staff, the kind of activities (including asynchronous ones), as well as different kinds of connections (including with other children).
We don’t always get it right. Each group needs something just a little different and each Granny offers something just a little different too. But we don’t give up and we don’t stop trying. Because situations change everyday. And we work, sometimes with the same children in the same lab but with changed abilities, and expectations – different contexts and support systems; sometimes with children starting from scratch in an old lab. We do know that “one size does not fit all” – not the children, not the Grannies, not the labs. Each offers a different opportunity, each presents a different challenge, and we have to go in ‘fresh’ and flexible with the openness to create the most effective learning environment that we can.
We know we cannot reach every child who needs us. We know we do not reach everyone of the children who participate in a Granny session. We know we are a small group with relatively little power in the larger scheme of things. Yet we believe that Grannies and SOLEs can work in tandem to create rich learning opportunities. And we also know that we can, and DO make a difference. And so we carry on…. And will for as long as we can.
But there are a few misconceptions that need clearing up. So let’s get the record straight.
- The Granny Cloud is an independent, self funded entity. It is run entirely by volunteers.
- The Granny Cloud is NOT ‘owned’ or in any way funded by the School in the Cloud.
- The Granny Cloud does not charge any organisation for Granny sessions. Yet, if long term sustainability is to be achieved The Granny Cloud will need funding and (through its collaborating, independent centre at Phaltan) accepts donations.
- The Granny Cloud has its own independent, self-funded website. The Granny Cloud website is NOT part of the School in the Cloud website even though there is a link leading to it from there.
- The Granny Cloud is available to organisations outside of India.
- The Granny Cloud can (and does) provide conceptual and practical support to organisations, schools, and communities setting up their own eMediation resources/facilities.
You can contact us through our website – www.thegrannycloud.org OR our Facebook page – The Granny Cloud