It was early morning, after a cup of refreshing tea at a roadside tea shop, my colleague and I walked upto Jorhat Boys' H.S School in Jorhat (Assam). This school was established in 1883 during British era. At the entrance, as you can see in the picture, it has a signage along with a historic year of establishment. I was instantly attracted by the look and feel of the entire school building. Spread across acres of land and prominently located in small town of Jorhat. I was on a visit to this school to partner with them for next three years to support them in teaching and learning specifically in Grade Vth and VIth (Maths and Science). Our commitment was to provide technology (includes hardware, digital content, and data) and training support to teachers.
After two years of immersive Masters course at Azim Premji University, I had then just joined Pratham Education Foundation as a training lead for their education technology project across ten districts of Assam covering both government and affordable private schools.
During one year of my tenure in Assam it wasn't what I had earlier expected or imagined. Being an educator I was aware that there were challenges in the field as well as chronic low performance of public school system. Despite burgeoning business of affordable private schools, their performance in terms of academic performance wasn't as beautiful as they were being perceived by communities.
As we met the principal of the school, it was a conversation filled with optimism and a new hope. It was indeed a great feeling being in the century old school with a new mindset and attitude to uplift teaching-learning practice at the school. Our intervention was though limited to Vth and VIth grade Science and Mathematics.
In few weeks our project was launched and it was interesting to see how the teacher adopted the technology device. Our curriculum framework required the teacher to actively plan his lesson to cater to different learning styles viz., auditory, kinesthetics and visual. The teachers were adequately supported with technology and pedagogy through training and on need basis apart from regular support and classroom observation by our programme associate at district level.
It was evident through our observations that introduction of technology enriched classroom teaching-learning experiences for both teachers and students, it was also witnessed that attendance at many schools improved and also learning outcomes. The engagement of students during class was commendable. What got transformed through our engagement was 'how education was imparted'. Students became more active learners rather than sitting passive, teacher was enabled to amplify her capacity and provide adequate learning opportunities to all students through her planned pedagogy for each of her lessons. Each new day, she became more confident about using technology in class and how she can create maximum impact.
Technology can bring tantrums when the user get overwhelmed with the functionality of it or when the comprehension of its benefit is vague to the user. I have seen how the devices we provided were just ignored despite regular monitoring and support efforts. Part of the concern was because of infrastructure issues like disappointing electricity supply. Few schools had assets like small power generators but they were dry, we didn't investigate for the reason, but our effort to convince headmaster went futile and finally had to uninstall the devices and ship it to more deserving school in the locality.
Confidence in using technology takes considerable amount of time. It requires patience from both the user and the implementing agency. Many a times, teachers are forced to use the technology, they are judged when not used as per procedure or when it malfunctions. Technically humans and tech tools are two different species. Even though the later is created by the former there is always a need for a 'education' to build a reliable and sustaining friendship. As per my experience, many teachers prefer their own style of teaching rather than adopting a new teaching tool. However, this convention can be altered with adequate support not only on 'how to use the technology tool' but also how to 'integrate technology' in their lesson and gradually building confidence in techno-pedagogy.
As we talk about the friendship between the user and the device, the pace of development of the relationship depends on the kind of technology. A plug and play device would instantly become the first love whereas fragmented pieces of technology tools and inconsistent plan of use could jeopardise effective implementation plan leading to waste of resources and breaking of the evolving relationship. Many a times, the frustration leads to complete shift of teachers belief about technology in education. They would always have a negative thoughts and conceived hassles ingrained in their mind.
Technology can truly lead to transformation if we are able to build the friendship between the teacher and the technology. And it requires substantial consideration in terms of supporting the teacher build the required capacity and confidence. Technology tools in fragments will ultimately lead to failure whereas plug and play promptly attracts teachers interest in technology and enables them.
*Learn, Out of the Box (now called Learning with Vodafone) is an initiative by Pratham Education Foundation (www.pratham.org) in partnership with Vodafone Foundation India.