June 2020: Teachers haven’t been able to do their usual work at schools ever since the schools closed in mid-March. Asha Chennai has been using their time productively to enhance our content, provide them training, etc.
Asha Chennai – Work During Covid-19 Lockdown
Asha Chennai employs 84 teachers, 4 coordinators, 2 computer system administrators and 2 software engineers.
Here is a breakup of our teachers by the project:
- Sangamam 19 lead and computer teacher + 25 regular teachers.
- Thulasi 3 computer teachers + 7 regular teachers + 2 kindergarten teachers
- Pearl 3 computer teachers + 9 regular teachers + 3 kindergarten teachers
- Poorna Vidhya 3 computer teachers + 5 regular teachers.
- Manigal 5 regular teachers.
Without proper planning, we realized that the entire lockdown period can be a washout in terms of the work output from our teachers. In Tamilnadu, the schools closed on March 15th. The full lockdown came into effect only on the 23rd of March. This gave us a little more than a week to plan for the activities of our teachers during the school closure. At that time, we had no idea that the lockdown and school closure will continue for this long. The teachers are continuing to do various activities detailed here. Here is a brief description of the work items. These work items were assigned to the teachers from projects other than Manigal.
Computers and Asha Chennai – Background
Asha Chennai has been taking various steps to use technology in education. All our teachers have a laptop loaded with contents and our own Asha Kanini app that provides easy access to these contents. All our teachers have been using this. They have an internet enabled smartphone with a 4G data pack and the knowledge on how to use this effectively. Our computer teachers know even more than this. They have been teaching these to the children in the schools they go to. Further we also have two system admins who can assist (remotely to the extent possible given the circumstance) the teachers with problems that they have on their computers.
There are three broad thrusts to our technology and education effort.
- Asha Kanini and bringing good content to the classroom to teach Maths, English, and other subjects.
- Curriculum and lesson plans for teaching computer science to children.
- While the assessment we conduct is oral and written using standard pencil and paper, we get the data into a database and perform analytics on them.
Anyway, computer trained teachers and our existing emphasis on using technology for learning enabled us to use the teacher’s time productively in enhancing these. Here are the specific ways in which the teachers were engaged.
Assessment Grading and Data Entry
The assessments were conducted in late February and early March. We hadn’t completed the grading of these. Further the teachers had also collected lot of information about the students. The entry of these had also not been completed. They completed these as the first work item for March/April.
Enhancing Asha Kanini
Computer teachers have typically been doing the mapping work for all the contents outside of their school time. A couple of recent enhancements that we made in the app allowed search on the contents and ability to display a Thumbnail for every content. But support for these in the app wouldn’t have made much sense without Thumbnails being available for all the over 20K content items in our packages. Further search operates based on information in the mapping files. For mapping that is in Tamil, we needed some rough English translation so that we can search in English. These involved a significant amount of effort. The school closures provided us the time that this effort required. Over April and part of May, the teacher created the Thumbnails and wrote English title/description for all the contents in our existing packages.
The teachers also spent time analyzing websites. Each teacher was assigned a website. The teacher-reviewed the contents in the website to determine whether it will be suitable for packaging with Asha Kanini and can be used in the schools for teaching. From these websites, we have chosen about 20 of them for mapping and then eventual inclusion in our list of supported packages. As these 20 packages are mapped and included in Asha Kanini, we will continue our analysis work and identify more websites and resources for inclusion with Asha Kanini.
New Contents for Asha Kanini
Asha Chennai usually conducts Asha Impressions a competition for the school children to show what they have learnt in computer science. A Presentation competition is held for the 4th and 5th std student-teams and a programming competition (using Scratch) for 7th and 8th std students. This year we couldn’t hold this competition because of the school closures. Many of the teachers had already been working on various presentations and programming projects with the school children. Since many of these presentations tend to be based on lessons in their textbooks, we have been including these as part of Asha Kanini. We asked every computer teacher to submit 2 presentations (or Scratch programs) that were suitable for teaching any lesson. Teachers worked on this with much enthusiasm and created some very good presentations. These will be useful as part of Asha Kanini going forward.
As part of Asha Kanini we are also creating lesson plans for teaching various lessons in English, Maths and Science using the contents available in Asha Kanini. We found a lack of good worksheets to go with these lesson plans. We asked regular teachers to create worksheets which may also be used as pre or post-test for a lesson for all subjects for the class that they teach. They have created a significant number of these worksheets that we will be packaging along with our lesson plans.
Asha Chennai usually organises RightStart the annual training programme in May. We also usually provide some training in Computers etc. during the months of April and May. This year, these were ruled out. We have been providing the following training for our teachers.
- English training has been organised by Mrs. Lavanya Srinivas. She is a story-teller and language trainer. She is having classes for 8 weeks for all our teachers with two classes of 2 hours over a video conference every week. Our teachers have been broken into 3 groups. While two of the groups are taught by Mrs. Lavanya Srinivas and Mrs. Shyamala Krishnamoorthy, the third group is taught by our own volunteer Mr. Ramakrishnan.
- Mrs. Meena Suresh our Maths trainer for over 5 years, interacted with regular teachers, grouped by the class they teach. The main focus was on what the teachers will need to be prepared for when the schools reopen. How they should prepare the children and refresh the old topics etc. She also guided us on the mini-school curriculum.
- Computer training is organised internally by our own teachers – mainly our lead teacher Kumari. She has been organising training on programming for our computer teachers as we are planning to take programming down to class 3 starting the coming academic year. We have also paired up our computer teachers with regular teachers so that the regular teachers may also improve their basic computer skills and digital literacy. The assignments for both these groups is provided by Kumari.
As the lockdown and school closure extends, we will be bringing in more training. We are planning for some more Maths training, a specific session on Vedic Maths and also some on child rights and gender justice. These will be organised once the English training comes to an end.