It’s 6 am and the day is just about beginning for many of us in metro cities. But for 14-year-old Suraj in a village in Kutch, it’s time to head out to school. He has to walk 8km before he can catch a bus that takes him to his school.
While till Class VIII, he went to a school in his village, he now needs to go all the way to one in the neighbouring village. And in many cases even after he reaches school, the teacher isn’t in or he doesn’t get to learn much.
Those who’ve gone to urban-schools, understanding the gap is difficult. There are rural schools with classrooms without benches, chalk and basic learning tools. It isn’t a problem a resident of a metro city would comprehend with. And this is the exact gap that the platform Learning Delight aims to solve.
To help children like Suraj get uninterrupted education, the platform provides digital learning tools that aid teachers and help engage students in rural areas.
Burning the midnight oil
The idea was sown in 2009, when Harshal Gohil, an MBA student from Nirma University, had gone on a visit to his hometown in Kutch for Diwali. Exposed to both rural and urban education systems, Harshal had an understanding of the gaps in teaching techniques in the rural areas, even though the curriculum as per the State board largely remained the same. Looking at how things were, he wished to change the status quo.
During his stay, he even spoke to students and began to wonder why they didn’t receive education as per the present standards. The 29-year-old says,
During my MBA days, I met my now co-founder and friend Vandan Kamdar, who was equally excited about the idea of revolutionising education in rural areas while tackling ground realities. As we started working on the software development aspect while completing our MBA in March 2011, we also realised that the one thing to further our dream of upgrading the education system and that was local participation.
The duo would attend their classes in college during the day and in their spare time and well into the night built the first prototype for the schools in the rural sector of Kutch. They identified three main issues to work on– the software, teacher’s training and the hardware.
Once the software was in the beta stage, the duo began running trial sessions when schools were closed.
Making learning fun
Harshal explains their approach,
We want to make learning a delightful experience by incorporating animation, riddles, puzzles and stories that are aligned to support teachers and enhance the quality of student engagement - based on State board curriculum, making prescribed textbooks fun and easy.
The teacher-centric software tool is meant to aid teachers in a classroom through the use of technology already available in the schools. The team started by providing solutions for government primary schools and has steadily grown over the last six years. Learning Delight is currently functional in over 4,400 rural government schools spread over nine districts of Gujarat.
The ride, however, wasn’t easy. there were several obvious gaps in the market. The language software in the market was in English, which was difficult for the teachers—who were more comfortable in their regional language—to grasp. They were also hesitant to use technology and were resistant to change.
Making it easier for rural schools
Thus the team built every part of the operating software, including UI, animation, riddles, quiz, in regional language so that teachers don’t face any kind of language barrier.
The Learning Delight software is incorporated with e-books that have multimedia components. This enabled the teachers to use the software more effectively in the classrooms. Learning Delight works offline, and does not rely on Internet connectivity to enable digital teaching.
Ashok Jatiya, Principal of Mamuara Prathmik Shala, says:
As the Learning Delight software content is presented in audio-visual format with lot of images, videos and animations the learning and understanding becomes interesting and easy for students.
The team doesn’t depend on rural schools to generate revenue as they believe it would defeat the purpose of empowering these schools. Instead they appeal to corporate social responsibility initiatives of companies or philanthropists to fund Learning Delight.
The team started with five schools in 2011 and then garnered support from various large enterprises like Transpek Industries Ltd., Adani Foundation, Excel Crop Care Ltd., and others individual donors to scale up the project.
This year they also started the project with Rotary International, Rotary District 3051 and 3060 to spread the Learning Delight project in nine districts covering upto 4,400 schools.
“We had challenged ourselves; if they can’t understand the software in the first 15 minutes then we are not doing it right,” says Harshal.
Focus on aiding the teacher
Today, several other organisations, like Hippocampus started by ex-Infosys employees, and Aspada-backed Xamcheck, are focussed on transforming the way education is conducted in schools. There also is vChalk Education, which enables school teachers to deliver and monitor effective catch-up classes in primary-level English and math using interactive activities.
Learning Delight selects schools with government-run Computer Aided Learning programme, and installs the software in those schools. During installation, they train teachers on how to operate the software.
The software is designed to address current gaps in the rural education sector, such as language barrier. Harshal says it is a simple technology that enables wider and faster adoption, and since it is a teacher-aiding tool that replicates their current teaching methods, it makes it easy for teachers to use it, without deviating too much from their current teaching methodology.
“We have a team of 30 including animators, programmers and people on the ground who provide maintenance support,” says Harshal. In 2014, his wife, Parinita, joined in as the VP, Marketing.
Gujarat alone has approximately 32,000 rural and semi-rural schools in the State. The team believes that there is ample ground to cover next year and plans to extend their reach to neighbouring States over the next year.
“Our ultimate goal, of course, remains to empower each and every rural school in India with the Learning Delight software and support the government’s initiative to digitise rural schools all over the country,” says Harshal.