Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Stories over Chai – Field visit to Assam

- Vennela Gandikota
Vennela is a member of the 'Learn, Out of the Box' programmes Central Management Team.

“What is the difference you find between the teachers of Assam and other states?”, asked a teacher who attended my workshop in the town of Chabua, in the district of Dibrugarh. It was a difficult question to answer, more so since Assam is culturally and geographically unique from the other states that we work in. However, I did tell him that I see a great deal of initiative taken by the teachers in Assam.  I had heard a lot about our project in Assam; I specifically remember hearing stories about how some of the teachers in Assamese-medium schools translate the English videos, in our content, to Assamese and explain it to their students. Thus, my field visit to Assam was filled with a lot of expectations and excitement about experiencing the impact of our project in the schools.

The Learn, Out of the Box programme is implemented in 120 schools in Assam. While the programme was launched in 21 schools in June 2012, as part of Phase I, it was launched in an additional 99 schools in June 2013 as part of Phase II.  My 10-day visit to Assam, along with Aparna, was planned with multiple objectives in mind. Conducting 1-day teacher workshops, visiting schools and interacting with teachers, and working with our Regional Programme Manager and Master Trainer were some of our main tasks.

The experience while conducting teacher workshops in Chabua and Tinuskia was a great learning experience. Despite having conducted teacher trainings before, I was still nervous on the first day since the location, teachers and the curriculum were all new to me. However, the teachers were very friendly and put me at ease instantly. They had already experienced our initial training and I could clearly see that it was much easier for them to connect to our methodology and approach, since they have been using the WebBox for some time. We also had some new teachers in the workshop, but having the other teachers share their experiences helped a lot in inducting the new ones into the programme. Throughout the day, the teachers were very motivated and participated enthusiastically in all the sessions. However, the biggest reward came at the end of the day when a teacher came up to me and admitted that though he has been using the WebBox, he has not been integrating it into the classroom. He said that the workshop made him reflect on his usage of the WebBox and he would try to use it not as an isolated tool, but as an active Teaching-Learning Material (TLM). I was extremely satisfied that we were able to take teachers to the next level in their involvement with the project; pushing them to think about integrating technology and other TLMs in the regular classroom.

Our Master Trainer, Bikash, interacting with teachers in the workshop
 Teachers trying different activities using the Algebra tiles as part of a TLM session in the workshop

 The bar graph and pie chart drawn by the teacher
A similar experience occurred in my next workshop when a teacher shared his experience of using the WebBox. He said that though he initially perceived our project as a burden and additional responsibility, he realised later that it saves a lot of his time, and he is now able to complete the syllabus on time.I was amazed to see that, when he was asked to present his experience on a piece of paper, he drew a bar graph showing the increase in attention, reasoning, and response levels of his students. He also created a pie chart representing the teachers’ time spent in various activities, mentioning that the time spent on searching for content, creating activity ideas, etc. is reduced to a great extent with the WebBox. He emphasised that lesson planning with the WebBox is a must and inculcating it as a regular habit enhances teaching and learning outcomes. While he was sharing his story, other teachers across the room found their voice in him. Those who used the WebBox, and those who didn’t, equally connected with him. I realised that hearing these words from a fellow teacher means a lot to them, both as a motivating factor and a perceived support system within their own community. From the stage where we, as trainers, explained the importance of lesson planning to the teachers, we have progressed to a stage where the teachers themselves testify our project and its benefits. This was a rewarding moment for the Assam team and the entire project in general.

After the workshops, we planned a visit to a CBSE aligned school in Chabua, along with the Assam team. After an hour long bike ride along the lush fields of Chabua and Tengaghat, we reached the school and sat in a Science classroom where the teacher was taking a class on magnets. It was a very engaging and interesting class, with the teacher integrating different elements into the classroom. He started off with the Introduction video in the WebBox and moved on to explain magnets with the help of the main concept video. He also got different types of magnets along with him and showed them to the students. What was fascinating is that he even asked some students to act like magnets and explained the magnetic field lines with the help of a small role play. In all, it was a wonderful class that catered to all kinds of learners. I also learnt that he plans to train other teachers in his schools on how to use the WebBox for higher classes with the help of the Web Search option. Such teachers reflect the potential and capacity of the teachers in Assam and the country, and can be role models for many teachers in our project and otherwise.

Soon after, we travelled to Guwahati and visited a few schools. Though we could not see any classrooms due to ongoing festivities in the school, we interacted with the teachers and learnt about some of the challenges they had while using the WebBox. The Principal of a school we visited was a very driven person and wanted to make the best of the support we were providing him. He asked our Master Trainer to develop a health and hygiene curriculum for the school and support him in various other such initiatives as well.  Meeting such people and learning from each other through this journey is an invisible yet significant result of this programme.

In all, the field visit to Assam proved to be very insightful since it provided us the opportunity to spend time with the team and understand the ground realities. As we were moving beyond launch, this visit was a good start for us to reflect as well as plan for the coming days. The focus would now shift towards strengthening our support to schools and enhancing our relationship with the teachers. This plan has already been put in place in Assam and we hope that many more stories would soon be pouring in from teachers, students and the team.

(L-R) Assistant Regional Manager - Dhruba; Regional Manager - Indu; 
Regional Associate - Kim; and Master Trainer Bikash