Amazon started its support for Asha under its Amazon Future Engineer (AFE) program. Along with the start of our usual support for the schools, we also started new AFE initiatives.
Amazon Learn and Explore Programs – Aug 2022
By Rajaraman Krishnan, volunteer Asha Chennai
Amazon Future Engineer program decided to support Asha Chennai’s Computer Science education at government schools. This enabled Asha to extend its programme from the current 100 schools to 150 schools. Starting from May, we have been busy ramping up our operations to meet this growth. Here is a brief report on our activities towards this.
Here is an album with photos from all these activities.
In anticipation of the hiring required, we started conducting tests for teachers across all our project areas. By reaching out to Illam Thedi Kalvi teachers, we were able to get a lot of interested candidates. We were able to get several candidates with some knowledge of computer science as well. In a single sitting as many as 60 candidates took the test in Thiruvallur.
We have hired over 30 teachers across our various projects. These were to fill in vacancies in our existing projects as well as new teachers for Amazon. Note that 17 of our existing computer teachers and 6 Kanini trainers were moved to Amazon project as well.
Here is a breakup of the new hiring.
Computer Teacher Amazon
Computer Teacher (non-Amazon)
When we are looking for schools to provide regular teachers to we usually select schools that have a low teacher-student ratio and a growing enrolment. However no such criteria is required for supporting a school with computer teacher. We pick schools that are geographically contiguous with our existing set of school. We select schools in areas from which we are getting a number of good teachers. We give preference to schools which have explicitly requested such support from us. The school should ideally have some space for our teacher to do her work. We explain to the HM that our teacher will have a specific curriculum to teach and the school will need to have a schedule to send the different classes to our teacher on the day(s) when she is there. Further the school will need to allow us to do the assessment at the school.
I visited most of the schools personally. During my visit in April I visited the new schools in Pearl project including PUPS Nallatinputhur, PUPS Kalugumalai, PUPS Sambakulam. PUMS Panneer Ootru, PUPS South Achampatti, PUPS Sivalingapuram and PUMS Kayathar (South). I had previously visited PUPS Vadakilandhakulam and PUPS Salai Pudhur. The only new school I could not visit was PUPS Thulukkarpettai. Murugan, our project coordinator at Pearl took me to all these places.
In my recent trip to the Pearl project I visited some of these schools again to see our teachers in action – in particular Nallatinpudhur, Panneer Ootru, South Achampatti, Vadakilandhakulam and Salai Pudhur.
I also visited all the new schools in Sangamam over 3 days. Srinivasan also accompanied me in these trips.
15th June (with a friend Sivakumar and my daughter Kavita): Ramathandalam, Beemanthopu, Chithampakkam, Eraiyur, Monnavedu, Monnavedupettai, Meiyur, and Vembedu
20th June: Nedumbaram, Old Panapakkam, Kanakamma Chathram, Muthukondapuram, Pazhayanoor, Veeraraghavapuram, and Chinnammapettai.
21st June: Boochiathipedu, Singilikuppam, Aylacheri, Old Alamathi, New Alamathi, Poorivakkam. Note we haven’t started working with the last three of the schools.
I got to visit these schools once again with our teachers working there. I saw Meiyur, Nedumbaram, Chinnammapettai, Boochiathipedu, and Monnavedu. I did these with other volunteers Ranjani, Girish and Subhashini.
I am yet to visit our new schools in Thulasi project. Our volunteer Paripooranam has visited these.
With all the new teachers coming in, it was important for us to plan the teacher training. RightStart teacher training for all (about 100) Asha teachers held from June 7th to 11th at IITM campus. Teachers trained in Maths, Science, English and Technology. Click here for a detailed report on RightStart.
Intensive computer science training in our curriculum and general topics for all new and old computer teachers for two weeks (May 30th to June 3rd and June 13th to 17th). By volunteers and lead teachers. This covered topics such as,
- Maintaining computers. Installing Asha and 3rd party software.
- Using Asha Kanini and in particular using Lesson Plans (incl CS Lesson Plans).
- Asha CS curriculum – Digital Literacy and Programming.
- Explore activities – Unplugged Activities, Cyber Robotics Challenge & Hour of Code.
These were conducted from Thiruvallur and our teachers from Pearl and Thulasi also participated in this remotely over Google meet.
Targeted training was also organised for the CS trainers on the Explore Activities, for all new Computer Teachers on Asha Kanini etc.
Equipping Schools and Teachers with Computers
All the new teachers were purchased new laptops with accessories (speaker, mouse and bag) both under the Amazon budget and Asha’s own budget. We also upgraded some teachers’ older laptops with SSD when the laptop had that provision. Volunteers and project coordinators distributed these to the teachers.
We also undertook the maintenance and repair of the computers already in the various schools. We further received 190 used laptops from Ford. We installed our software on these laptops and distributed them to the schools. Now all the 130 schools that we currently support have a reasonable number of computers for us to teacher computer science properly. Here is a report on the Ford laptop donations.
- Besides these we purchased 3 tablets each for each of our CS trainers. See a description of their work in the section of Amazon Explore. We also needed to purchase good hardware setup for the Amazon Class Chats (again described in its own section). We have purchased such a setup with a projector, a bluetooth speaker, a mixer and a received with two wireless microphones and the necessary cables.
In addition to teaching children Computer Science, Amazon also had a couple of other programs under their Amazon Future Engineer project. One of these is the Explore initiative. The idea of this was to give children a brief exposure to what is computer science and create the interest in them to learn more. For this they had specifically selected a few activities that conveys the idea of computer science as well as be interesting to the students. These activities are,
- Unplugged activities – Have children do physical activities without computers which will help them understand computing as well as develop computational thinking in them.
- Amazon Cyber Robotics Challenge – Program a Robot to traverse a maze and bring back some item in a virtual Amazon Fulfilment Centre.
- Hour of Code – Code.org as well as other organisations have created a set of activities which can be independently taught to a class in one hour. This will again help children understand computers and programming and spark an interest in them.
Each CS trainer will identify a set of 30 or so schools with about 3000 children in the 6th to 9th classes. They will visit these schools in rotation and do any one of these activities for one hour with a batch of children. They are likely to get about 4 or 5 classes (of around an hour) with a specific group of children (say 6th std children in a specific school). In those 4 or 5 classes, they will be able to do 4 or 5 of the above activities.
We have started the program with 5 CS trainers head by one lead trainer Nathiya. They are each covering about one block of a district. Four of them work in Thiruvallur district and one from Thiruvannamalai/Villupuram districts.
Initially they were doing mostly unplugged activities. After we purchased the tablets, they are also able to easily do the Hour of Code and Cyber Robotics Challenge activities as well.
Amazon Class Chats
Another initiative under the Amazon Future Engineer Project is Class Chats. In class chat a volunteer from Amazon with talk to a class of students (typically 30 to 50 students) over video conference. The volunteers from Amazon have been provided a training on how to conduct these sessions and how many of the standard questions may be addressed. They typically talk about their journey to Amazon in terms of their studies, work etc. They also provide details on what exactly they are working on. These give children an idea of what it means to be doing that kind of work (software engineer or other types of work), and the kind of preparation required to get that kind of job. Further it also exposes them to technology.
We have conducted 8 of these so far. They have been good successes so far. Children have been engaged and interacted well with the volunteer. Volunteers have been able to keep the attention of the children. Our teachers over time have also become good at controlling the children in these sessions. Till now our volunteers have participated (in person and/or in the video conference) in every one of these class chats. Komalavalli has been managing this program.
We have another 5 trainers and about 10 teachers (Amazon and the rest) remaining to be hired. We also will be taking up another 20 or so schools. Hiring the teachers and selecting the new schools is continuing. We hope to bring in all the new teachers by December when we will have another major training exercise.
Many of our regular work like distribution of stationery materials, educational materials and mats, painting the blackboard, purchasing the uniform kits for the teachers etc. will happen over the next month or so. At the end of the term, when there are exams in the schools, our computer teachers will do content work and also have some training. This will happen in late September. We are also planning to have a series of training sessions by our Maths and Science trainers at each of our project locations in early October.