Thursday, 11 September 2008

A school without pen and bag

By : Annu Anand
Udaipur, Rajasthan
It was an unusual classroom of seventh standard in Central Public Senior School in the tribal belt of south Rajasthan, in Udaipur. All forty students in the class were taking geography lessons on their respective computers. They were doing an exercise of a chapter on earth and rocks. All the information on the chapter was accessible on their computer screens. The kids were busy exploring different sections of their lesson with the help of their little mouse. To an outsider, it may appear that a computer class is in session.
But this is a unique class. They study all subjects - mathematics, Hindi or general knowledge - on the computer. Similar was the scene in all other classrooms in the school. Even nursery kids were learning A for Apple and Ant from their computers. As soon as they see pictures, the class would reverberate with sounds of the children.
This school is well on way to becoming the country's first pen-less and bag-less school. It was started in 1998 and has about 1200 students on its rolls. When Alka Sharma, the school's principal, founded the institution she wanted to free children from the burden of school bags on their shoulders. She began thinking of different ways and means of doing so and decided to use computers to translate her ideas into action. After all, she thought, computerized education has a bright future. This inspired her to go ahead and transform her dream into reality. To begin with, she used software to transform syllabus of different subjects into computerized modules.
The whole class is introduced to a new lesson with the help of a liquid crystal display (LCD) and projector. The subject teacher lectures in recorded voice the lesson's main points as in a normal classroom. Then children do the exercises on their computers. For homework and exercises, children are allowed to take computers home by rotation. The head of the Computer Department, Sunil Bawel, says: "Teachers with help from technical staff prepare question papers using special software packages such as Karo Karo." The 'answer sheets' are checked on computers and marks given to students instantly.
All tests for second to the 12th standard are conducted over computers only. Alka Sharma says: "We would like to have the final examination of 12th standard also on computers, but parents are not yet ready for it. Moreover, the state examination board has to agree for the change." So, about half the final examinations in the school are conducted over computers while the rest are taken the traditional way- with paper and pen.
In 2003, the school received second prize for excellence in computer education from the President, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam. "Initially when I used to talk about pen-less school, people used to be surprised. But now my dream has taken shape. After we got this recognition, parents are also encouraged about the experiment and are now helping the school in conducting all exams on computers," says Alka Sharma. Most children in the school are happy with the new teaching system. Showing pictures of different rock on his computer screen, Mayank, studying in the seventh standard, says this way one can explore different subjects creatively and also get practical information. "We can make power point presentations even on difficult subjects", adds Kirti Jain of the same class.
For children who work for long hours on computers, physical exercises are prescribed. They are taught to practice pranayama and yoga. In addition, there is facility for acupressure also. In every class the computer kept is on a trolley so that it can be moved around in case the teacher has to explain something. All information about the school's e-library and video library is available on compact discs and children can access these.
As the principal says, the school is fully equipped and ready to be the completely computerized teaching institution in the country. Even final examinations will be conducted on computers once the education department gives the go-ahead.

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