How technology in education is empowering marginalised groups

ITE: 2015 summer classes.

Tata Trusts is changing the lives of children and women through an integrated approach to technology in education.

When India sends an orbiter to Mars, what becomes synonymous with the trip is the image of women scientists in sarees with flowers in their hair celebrating their feat. The image remains embedded in our heads, because we hardly get to see women in tech and hence, some of these achievements become celebration-worthy.

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM education is the first step to ensure an increase in the pool of girls and women in tech. One of the ways to do it is to integrate technology in the day-to-day learning and teaching.

To drive this the Integrated approach to Technology in Education (ITE) was started by TataTrusts, and later on resourced by Tata Institute of Social Studies. It was first piloted in May 2012 at Street Survivors India (SSI), at their four supplementary rural learning centres for adolescents in four villages in Kandi block of Murshidabad district in West Bengal. Since 2012, the trusts, with the support of their 12 partners, have reached out to around 10,000 children through the ITE projects.

Initiating and scaling the ITE in rural areas and urban slums is Amina Charania, Senior Programme Officer at Tata Trusts and Adjunct Associate Professor at Centre for Education Innovation and Action Research (CEIAR), TISS. Amina brings her expertise to this role from her previous role at the Iowa State University Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching too.

We spoke with Amina to understand how technology is being integrated in the curriculums and how the projects that ITE is conducting is helping young children, especially girls, get empowered with tech education.

Fostering learning across geographies

To ensure that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is not an additional subject in the classroom, it is important to integrate technology into the lesson plans and classrooms practices, an approach that improves teaching and learning, and fosters authentic and project-based learning for older children and adolescents in some of the most underprivileged geographies. The students are mostly in middle school, 10-15 years in age, and mostly (91 percent) from rural areas.

Amina says, “Implementation of IET programme has mostly happened through government schools, learning centres and madrasas, both private and government. These are mostly focused on resource-poor areas such as the tribal and rural belts in eastern and north-eastern states, or in urban Muslim minority ghettos in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.”

ITE organically grew in West Bengal and Assam because Amina was working in the eastern regions of India in the area of education. Uttar Pradesh came into the picture with the introduction of ITE in madrasas, where trusts were already working in teacher capacity building.

Amina Charania

Making technology a part of learning

Teachers design the learning activities and students use technology to construct their own learning. Students use technology to seek information, construct and organise their learning and represent it through computer applications. The objective is to bridge the digital divide, increase interest in learning, and bring about overall improvement in learning and education.

“Students, mostly first-time computer users, create learning artefacts like weather charts, a graphical representation of jute production in India or chart population density in different cities, to deepen their learning of concepts in their textbooks,” shares Amina.

The current outreach is about 28,000 students, 1,500 (700 outreach) teachers, seven states, 600 schools, 66 learning centres, and 34 madrasas and government madrasas.

Though supported technically and financially by Tata Trusts, the NGOs implement the ITE programme barring one site in UP that has direct implementation of ITE by the team. When Amina was deputed as faculty at the Centre for Innovation in Education and Action Research that TISS came into picture, and from 2016 onwards it has become a technical resource partner for ITE. Under ITE, TISS also offers a certificate programme to facilitate in-service education to scale up the ITE approach.

 Training the facilitator

At the learning centres, the NGOs supported by the Trusts depute their own teachers. At schools, these NGO teachers handhold the government schools teachers, for whom a 3-4 days’ training is provided. The certificate course is mainly for government teachers. The central resource team at TISS trains all teachers.

“After the contact trainings, teachers are provided continued professional support through online forums and field visits and local cluster-level workshops.”

As regards infrastructure support in the government schools, the existing infrastructure is repaired by the implementation partners to make it ready for ITE.

Naba Disha, an ITE trainer, taking ITE sessions with government school students.

“In learning centres and remote schools, the ITE budget provides laptops. In very remote locations, ITE facilitators-NGO teachers carry laptops with them.”

Response from girls

Although all ITE sites are open for boys and girls, the overall ratio is in favour of girls at 1:.85.

In Assam and West Bengal, ITE has been successfully implemented in all-girls’ schools. Some of the projects done by the girls on STEM topics include magnetism, planets of the earth, environment, carbohydrates, and trigonometry along with projects in maths, like symmetry, profit and loss, measurement, calculating BMI, etc.

Amina shares a few case studies with us. Salma (name changed), a 10-year-old girl from Narikutchi in Assam’s Nalbari district, was on the verge of dropping out of Class V due to various personal and economic factors some three years ago. Implementation partner of IET in Assam, GVM, took her into their adolescent education programme, a six-month camp where she was taught the importance of education and standing on her own feet. Today she knows PowerPoint, Excel, Scratch, and due to her performance has been promoted to Class VII.

Yet another example that Amina shares is of Malti (name changed), an ITE teacher at Suchana, Birbhum in West Bengal, who has been working with Santhal and Kora children and youth. Malti appeared for ITE teacher interview and was asked if she was willing to drive. Malti replied, “I have never seen a car from inside.” Suchana trained Malti to dive ITE van, and ITE training made her one of the finest ICT-enabled teachers, and one of the first women drivers from her tribe in the district.

“Today, she turns a lot of heads around when she drives the ITE van, confidence and self-respect beams through her eyes when she narrates her ITE journey at Suchana,” says Amina.

Impact: creation and measurement

According to Amina, they have seen improved participation by parents, and a visible expression of students’ creativity, collaboration, and analytical reasoning and digital citizenship skills in teachers and students.

Amina says, “We have also seen an impact on student attendance and learning process; they have become more confident. Education has empowered them, especially since many come from under-represented communities, such as tribal, madrasas and slum areas, and have never touched PCs or other gadgets.”

ITE has also given students real-life experiences. Referring to a community project about the river in Khanjanpur, Amina says,

“The community project in Suchana also contributed to raising awareness about the lost culture and environmental change among people in the village: they started working on reviving and preserving the lost culture.”

Students from marginalised communities who did not have access to tech gadgets and technology are now digitally literate, developing problem-solving skills and analytics mindset. Though religious, social and economic divide might separate them, digitally they stand tall and confident because technology has empowered them. This small step will empower them to be the leaders of tomorrow.