Granny army helps India's school children via the cloud
Published: 30th Apr 2012 04:33:40
No-one does love and encouragement better than a granny. Now that love is being spread across continents, as UK-based grandmothers extend their embrace to school children thousands of miles away in India.
Jackie Barrow isn't a granny yet but as a retired teacher she felt she might qualify for an advert in The Guardian newspaper calling for volunteers to help teach children in India.
She did and today, three years on, she is reading "Not Now Bernard" via Skype to a small group of children in the Indian city of Pune.
They love it and are engaged in the experience as she holds up an Easter egg to show them how children in the UK celebrated the recent holiday.
The Granny Cloud project is the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra, best-known for his hole-in-the-wall computer scheme which put basic PCs into some of the poorest parts of India.
He installed the first such computer on the wall of his south Delhi office, opposite a slum. He was amazed to see that the children, initially curious about the machine, soon became self-taught experts.
Within days the children were able to browse the internet, cut and paste copy, drag and drop items and create folders.
The children liked to draw, discovering how to use the Microsoft Paint programme to create paintings.
Then they moved on to downloading games and playing them. By the second month they had discovered MP3 music files and were downloading songs.
Prof Mitra noticed they did best when an adult was present offering advice and encouragement over their shoulders.
There was, he reasoned, no-one so encouraging as a granny and so the idea was born.
The official name of the project is Sole (self organised learning environments) but it is more commonly known as the granny cloud.
The grannies, or e-mediators as they are officially known, are not teachers and the sessions they conduct with the children in India are not lessons.
Instead they read stories to the children and talk about things relevant to them and to the UK. The point, said Prof Mitra, was that they provided encouragement and praise and became a "virtual granny" to the children.
Jackie lives in a rural area 15 miles (24km) outside Manchester - a world away from Pune.
"We chat about my garden. In the spring I show them pictures of the lambs in the fields by the house and in the winter, pictures of the snow. If I go to London I take a picture of myself there. They love it," she said.
The e-mediators encourage each other, staying in touch via a Facebook page and a wiki, on which they offer tips for what went well and what did not work.
There were now around 300 "grannies" involved in the scheme and it was growing all the time, Prof Mitra told the BBC.
But it has not been without its problems.
"After three years it still feels as if we are at a pilot stage. There are so many things that still need to be worked out," he said.
He is very upfront about the challenges the project has faced.
"This type of e-mediation is intended for the not-so-good schools but they don't want it. The teachers don't have great interest, there is not enough electricity, there are hundreds of reasons why it doesn't work," he said.
Using Skype to connect the grannies with the children may be cheap but it isn't always reliable.
The connection often goes down, as it did on the day Jackie was teaching.
"One out of 10 sessions have a problem so it is not unusable and the children have no expectations. They are happy to revert to messaging," said Prof Mitra.
Initially he put his grannies to work with schools in Hydrerabad where cultural differences between the backgrounds of the UK volunteers and the children they were connecting to soon became very obvious.
"The schools were predominately Muslim and, with hindsight, that may not have been the best choice," said Prof Mitra.
Jackie agreed that religion can be a sensitive topic and does her best now to avoid any religious references.
She added that, at first, there was a more general lack of enthusiasm for the scheme. "There were lots of problems. No-one from the school seemed prepared to facilitate the sessions. In one town there was just one guy on a bicycle going from one centre to another opening up," she said.
"The teachers are often not qualified, not competent with IT, can't speak English and maybe felt threatened by this kind of intervention," she added.
Now she conducts her sessions at an after-school club, dubbed Khelgar, where there are lots of encouraging staff.
Chief among them is Suneeta Kulkarni, who has the incredibly challenging job of co-ordinating the scheme across the whole of India.
For her the rewards are obvious.
"I have seen big differences in the children. They have learnt lots of words and when Jackie holds something up they now attempt to read the words," she said.
What do the children make of a story such as Not Now Bernard, a quintessentially British book about a boy whose protestations to his parents about a monster in the garden fall on deaf ears with tragic consequences.
"Parents across the world are preoccupied, it is a universal message," said Ms Kulkarni.
The scheme has now been extended to four schools in Columbia, South America where, said Prof Mitra, it was doing very well.
It is also being used in schools much closer to home.
In Gateshead where literacy levels are lower than the national average, schools such as St Aidan's Church of England primary school are embracing the idea of the granny cloud and using e-mediators to engage children at the very early stages of reading.
"The teachers love it as they can go off and have a cup of tea and the children are very excited about a granny appearing on the screen," said Prof Mitra.
The professor is hopeful that the project can be taken on by a big organisation and made to work at a global scale.
"In terms of potential we have just scratched the surface," he said.
He also sees huge potential for extending the role of the e-mediators into a "retirement cloud".
"We have a silent workforce, retired engineers, doctors, plumbers - all with great expertise to share," he said.
"I hope that at some stage the government picks it up. Retired people can input their information in a 21st retirement club on the cloud for everyone to tap into."
It could, he said, be an important cultural leap in the way we view our ageing population.
"Instead of saying 'what can we do for them?', we will be asking 'what can they do for us?'"
At 12:58:39 in EnglandA poem about the killing of PC Keith Blakelock during riots in north London was written by the man accused of his murder, a court has heard.
At 12:58:21 in SportKent have announced a pre-interest and pre-tax profit of £156,778 for the financial year to November 2013.
At 12:56:04 in ScotlandA hamster has been found abandoned inside a plastic play tube in Edinburgh.
At 12:55:09 in BusinessThe sometimes fraught relationship between leaseholders and their freeholders is going to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
At 12:54:04 in HeadlinesIndia's Supreme Court has ordered the continuing detention of businessman Subrata Roy and asked his firm to come up with a plan to repay its investors.
At 12:53:21 in SportCrystal Palace winger Jason Puncheon has been fined £15,000 by the Football Association and warned about his future conduct for Twitter comments he made in relation to former boss Neil Warnock.
At 12:52:43 in HeadlinesA second witness at the murder trial of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius has told a court in the capital Pretoria she was awoken by the sounds of a fight early on 14 February 2013.
At 12:42:01 in PoliticsThere is a risk that "deliberate provocation" could give rise to a dangerous incident in Ukraine, Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned.
At 12:41:48 in EnglandA residential treatment programme for addicts which closed in Yeovil is to reopen after the charity running it merged with another organisation.
At 12:40:03 in ScotlandPolice Scotland has exceeded its target to recruit 1,000 additional officers.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. Granny army helps India's school children via the cloud [Online] (Updated 30th Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1425404/Granny-army-helps-Indias-school-children-via-the-cloud [Accessed 8th Mar 2014]
News In Other Categories
Two hospitals missed opportunities to take action against a consultant breast surgeon who was performing unnecessary or incomplete operations, a review has found.
The sometimes fraught relationship between leaseholders and their freeholders is going to be investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
Kent have announced a pre-interest and pre-tax profit of £156,778 for the financial year to November 2013.
A poem about the killing of PC Keith Blakelock during riots in north London was written by the man accused of his murder, a court has heard.
India's Supreme Court has ordered the continuing detention of businessman Subrata Roy and asked his firm to come up with a plan to repay its investors.
With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com