The government school system has been given up as hopeless, though nearly 70% of students attend government schools. It is the only option in rural areas and for poor children. One reason given for the dysfunction of the system is a lack of motivation among teachers. “Teachers are apathetic and don’t care,” is a common refrain. In H.D. Kote taluk in Karnataka, a deprived region, the Vijnana Vedike initiative has evolved a unique approach to create a new mindset among teachers. It has created a participatory forum for teachers to discuss Science and Science teaching. A key aspect of this forum is that it is participatory. It is different from the standard top-down approach of the numerous training programs teachers are required to attend. Teachers can shape the discussions of the forum based on what they need, rather than being told what they should do by someone who does not understand their day-to-day challenges. The free flowing nature of the discussions has led to a vibrant learning group. Teachers want to be part of Vijnana Vedike, rather than being forced to go a training session. Most importantly, teachers have become excited about learning, and bring this excitement to their classrooms, something that other training programs have failed to achieve.
The functioning of this group is as simple as it is effective. With the low cost smart phone app WhatsApp, teachers get together virtually across geographical distances. Topics are discussed through audio, text, photos, and video, all enabled through the WhatsApp app. The sessions are highly interactive. Teachers discuss their doubts and questions without inhibition and learn from each other. They have become confident, empowered, and have begun to produce their own material to address gaps in textbooks. They have taken ownership of the group and drive it, with no dependence on external support agencies. This transformation among teachers has the potential to change the government school system.
The group has 80 teachers from 70 schools, and the archived material reaches thousands of teachers across Karnataka. The work has been profiled recently in the media (Times of India, Indian Express) and was selected by the British Council of India as one of the innovative projects.
Mr. Satish, then a Mathematics teacher at Katte Hunsur Government High School, is creating a Mathematics lab on his own, doing whatever is necessary to build the lab, including carpentry. Mr. Ananth, a Biology teacher at Mullur Government High School is working hard on developing the Biology lab. These are remarkable achievements – no government high school in the area had a functioning Science lab before this project. Now, the teachers are taking the initiative themselves.
This teachers’ group is one of the biggest successes of Vijnana Vahini (Mobile Science Van) project supported by Asha for Education and Oracle. We will post updates as the group and the labs evolve.