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Digital villages: A new computing curriculum in Goa

Prajyot Mainkar

India is on a digital mission and as a nation there have been many movements to make India a digitally stronger nation. The initiative weaves together a large number of ideas and thoughts into a single, comprehensive vision so that each of them can be further implemented as a part of the 9-pillars of the Digital India goal. Though these individual ideas stand different, the aim is to think of the big picture. Education plays an important role in helping people understand the true need of ‘being digital’. But in the midst of the Digital India initiative, there lays an obvious disconnect between the educational system and infrastructure that will be needed to support this initiative.

A major drawback in our educational system is the missing component of creativity and innovation. Instead what many students follow is a cramming system. There are a few exceptions as we see some students blossoming into all-rounders, but this is predominantly in cities where basic learning tools are easily available especially on the internet. So what happens to village schools? Does the Digital India require a bottom-up approach by thinking Digital in Village?

90 kilometres from Ahmedabad in the Himmatnagar sub-district of Sabarkantha district lays Akodara village, with around 200 households and a total population of 1100 villagers. With farming and animal husbandry as the major occupation in the village, Akodara is India’s first digital village, powered by an initiative that is driven by the government of Gujarat and ICICI bank. This village is a technology-led concept with internet connectivity as the foundation of this digital life. It has been a revolution with cashless payments, CCTV surveillances, live crop prices to smart education using smart board interactive features in the classrooms and AV learning. So the question that arises is- can we derive inspiration from such stories for Goa? A change of mindset and approach can make a revolution here as well.

The internet is certainly one of the crucial pillars that would largely define the velocity of digital India. Education with the help of the internet can bring about change in the learning system of villages. With an aim to transform students in villages as the digital face of villages, a group of passionate, like-minded people have put together the concept- Goans Empowered with Information Technology- GEIT. Here the focus is to make Goan village students digitally smarter. This group is on a mission to make schools digitally inclined in order to provide essential support to help students learn. The group is currently involved in boosting knowledge and infrastructure in the three village schools in Goa namely: St Bartholomew’s High School (Chorao, Tiswadi), Azmane High School (Neura, Mandur, Tiswadi) and Dayanand Bandodkar High School (Gokulde, Padi, Quepem).

GEIT has conducted several workshops in schools; some included Diwali Camps that received great response. The workshops were on several topics such as Scratch, IoT, Robotics and Android. Problems faced by most of the schools were the lack of functioning computers in their labs. With the help of professionals, the GEIT group have managed to build working PCs using Raspberry-Pi for less than Rs 4500. These PCs have been supplied to schools that don’t have working PCs. Today, students have their own PCs and do not need to hover around their teacher. This change in village schools is a revolutionary breakthrough for the GEIT group. Under Project GEIT all possibilities to achieve this goal will be explored, solutions will be identified and adapted to the Goan village context and implemented.

GEIT is a community initiative with no expectations of government or corporate support. This is to prove that Goans can help themselves bring about change by pooling together limited resources and extensive global goodwill without support from any political or vested interests. Speaking about support, the project has received the VP of GITP, Vincent Toscano’s quote- “GEIT is of the people, by the people and for the people, and so it will remain.” Vincent further added that GEIT is for Goans to prosper in Goa through modern employment and self employment opportunities. With today’s communication technology any skilled person in any corner of the globe can excel.

When was the last time you lived without the internet or a highly unstable internet? Imagine this to be the state in Goan villages where students are hardly exposed to the internet. While the major part of the world is talking about computer aided education, E-learning, WiFi classrooms, the ground reality in Goa is bad. One of the core leaders of the GEIT, Sangeeta Naik said: “As per feedback from many schools, connectivity is pretty unreliable and is not there most of the time. It takes a couple of calls and reasonable amount of follow up to restore connectivity once it disappears. Another bottleneck is the GBBN hub from where the school gets the internet connectivity is at the local panchayat office. Only once the panchyat office begins the school internet connectivity comes on.” She further said: “Only three IP addresses are allocated to each school (even schools with over 200 students) through GBBN which implies that at any point on time only three computers in the school can use internet connectivity. By and large one of this is used in the office, the other by the head of the institution and the last is used in the computer lab.”

Goa being one of the most visited tourist destinations has a lot to achieve in terms of its educational system. In fact, England is one of the earliest adopters in the world to mandate computer programming in primary and secondary schools. With this program, children will start learning to write code when they begin school the age of five, and will not stop until they are at least 16, which is when they finish their GCSEs. This pattern will help students generate logical thinking and implementation. This is a tested model and if this works well in Goa, students in villages will become digitally sound.

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