Digital community school helping out poor children through exploratory learning

Children engaged in participatory learning at the digital community school in Banjaron Ki Basti in Ajmer district’s Kishangarh tehsil.
| Photo Credit: Special arrangement

An innovative concept of digital community schools, introduced by Tilonia-based Barefoot College International, is benefiting over 50 children from poor and underprivileged families in Ajmer district’s Kishangarh tehsil. The new model has helped develop a hub for exploratory learning through solar power-run “edu-box”.

Children in Kishangarh’s far-flung Banjaron Ki Basti locality were deprived of education at the primary level because of the government school’s distance and their parents’ inability to afford the cost of schooling. The social enterprise, which has been working with the rural communities, has stepped in with a model suitable for children.

With the initiation of a process for technology integration within the community, the school, started in August this year, has established an informal learning space with the in-house designed “edu-box” that stores the study material. A solar-powered projector turns the classroom into a digital learning centre and motivates children to complete their tasks quickly.

The projector is paired with tablets and an offline content router to exhibit the curated digital content for learners. Three persons have been selected from the local community and trained to play the role of school teachers, while the curriculum has been customised to the local context.

Barefoot College co-founder and senior adviser Bhagwat Nandan told  The Hindu that the school model was evolved during the COVID pandemic to meet the needs of rural communities. Awareness generation among parents and community health and wellness were added to the curriculum and made an integral part of the digital school intervention, Mr. Nandan said.

Barefoot College, famous for imparting training to marginalised women in solar energy applications, had opened digital community schools in States such as Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Manipur, Odisha and Assam before starting the new school in Banjaron Ki Basti. The school has also created learning spaces for parents to encourage dialogues and discussions in the community.

Geeta Devi, who is sending her two children to the school, said it was difficult for her family of daily wage labourers to get the kids educated, but the digital school would help them have a better life. Thirty-year-old Ganga, whose son is studying in the school, said while her poor family lacked the basic resources, education would immensely help the next generation.

Moving beyond the schooling based on bare minimum literacy and numeracy skills, 60% of the syllabus of digital school comprises basic education with primary-level outcome targets and 40% focuses on sustainable development to evolve the capacity among children to voice their issues and form opinions that could lead to solutions.

The children are encouraged to articulate their view on subjects such as gender equality, health and nutrition, financial literacy, environment protection and digital literacy. While the students’ response is at present collected through registers, worksheets and spreadsheets, the school is planning to shortly launch an app for the purpose.

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