IEEE Student Member Jineet Doshi visited rural villages in Gujarat, India, in December for a university project, and he says he was shocked by the dismal state of education there.
“It was unnerving to notice that students in eighth grade could not identify the difference between the letters B and D,” Doshi says. “However, I could see the kids were intelligent, and they showed a remarkable ability to learn new things if taught in the right manner.”
Doshi—a second-year information and communication technology undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor of technology degree at the Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, in Gandhinagar, the capital city of Gujarat—decided that something had to be done. He and another student, Nikit Saraf, set out to make a difference with the help of technology. They spent the next few weeks visiting schools in nearby rural villages south of Gujarat and working with teachers there to use tablet computers and apps to teach students language, math, and other subjects. The results have been promising, says Doshi, who is secretary of the IEEE Gujarat Section Student Network and head of the program committee of his university’s IEEE student branch.
“Learning through interactive apps has turned out to be very effective, and we have noticed promising improvements,” he says. For example, he reports, a class of fourth-grade students quickly learned the English alphabet after playing with an app that invites them to sing their ABCs.
Doshi is working on the project with Action Research in Community Health and Development (ARCH), a nongovernmental organization that works on improving quality of life in rural and tribal areas of Gujarat. ARCH volunteers helped monitor the classroom, translating because some of the teachers don’t speak English, and providing some funding for the tablets. Doshi took on the project as an ARCH intern and was inspired by the growth in less expensive mobile computing in India in recent years.
“India recently developed the cheapest tablet in the world, the Aakash 2, which is priced at a mere US $20 for students,” Doshi says. “This, along with my visit to the schools, encouraged me to tap into the potential of tablets and use them to develop a teaching model for increasing literacy in the rural areas of India.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Doshi and Saraf’s work started in December 2012, when they visited schools in the villages of Gadi, Khadki, and Vavar. Originally, they taught the students with their iPhones. “We decided to use apps,” Doshi says, “because it is well known that kids learn things very quickly when content is provided in the form of multimedia, like songs, video, animations, and games.”
The two first tested their teaching model on a class of 25 fourth-grade students who did not know the English alphabet. They downloaded the ABC Song app and played the song for the class a few times. Next, they divided the students into groups of five and had each group use the iPhones to play with two of the app’s games meant to teach students the alphabet. One game shows pictures of animals along with their names, as well as how they are phonetically spelled. The students learn to match the pictures of animals with their names.
“It took just 20 minutes for the entire class to learn the alphabet after listening to the song,” Doshi says. “And after 15 minutes of playing the game, each student was able to match the animal with its name. This was very promising, because these were kids who had no knowledge of the English alphabet before.”
Doshi noticed that the app helped the pupils become more engaged with each other as well. “When they were in groups of five, all of the students were equally engrossed in the learning process and were helping each other to solve the puzzles,” he says.
Doshi and Saraf tested their model, still using phones, at two other schools. They divided classrooms of fourth- and eighth-grade students into teams and had them play the alphabet games as well as a music app that taught them how to play a virtual piano.
The students had time to play around with the phones to explore how they work. “When given the chance to play with the phones, the kids inquisitively checked out every app,” he says. “Some of them found the camera fascinating and within 15 minutes they had learned how to take pictures, edit them, and post them on social media sites all by themselves.”
After noticing that their app-teaching model was working, Doshi and Saraf decided to try tablets instead of smartphones. “We realized that for a price-sensitive place like India, where our teaching model would have to be replicated at a very large scale, smartphones were an expensive solution,” Doshi says. “Also, for a group of five children, the screen was too small.”
So, with some funding from ARCH and donations from Doshi’s family, he and Rashmi Kapadia, CEO of ARCH, have been purchasing some tablets costing $90 each, as well as Mi-Fi devices to set up a stable Internet connection in the schools, which rarely have Wi-Fi.
APPLYING FOR GRANTS
With the help of some ARCH volunteers, Doshi and Kapadia have developed an outline for a course based on learning with tablets—which they plan to show to other schools in the area. And they are applying for grants to buy more tablets, including the IEEE Student Enterprise Award, which awards money to student members working on a variety of projects. Doshi hopes to receive $1200 to implement his teaching model on a larger scale.
“It feels great to be working for the betterment of society,” he says. “Considering the number of lives that can be impacted by this project, it makes our work feel special, and it is what drives our team to put in our best effort. The joy and satisfaction associated with the project—the heartwarming feeling of having changed some lives for the better, even if on a small scale—is our biggest reward.”