After opening 4 RTCs in Thiruvallur district we have opened a new RTC in Kayathar, Thoothukudi District. This started operating in Oct 2022 and inauguration function was held on Oct 10th 2022.
IITM Pravartak and Asha launched the first two Rural Technology Centres back in Jan 2022 at Kanakamma Chathram and Seethanjeri in Thiruvallur District. These were inaugurated on 4th Feb 2022. Two additional RTCs, also in Thiruvallur Dist were launched in July 2022.
We have started the fifth RTC in Kayathar, Thoothukudi Dist in Oct 2022. This report covers the same.
See the full photo album here.
Asha has been working in Thoothukudi District since 2009. We are supporting a total of 20 schools in that area (Thoothukudi and neighbouring Thirunelveli and Thenkasi districts). The reason we started all the first four RTCs in Thiruvallur was that we had a strong base of teachers in that area from which we could pick the most suitable teachers for the RTCs. Further proximity to Chennai meant that volunteers could travel to the RTCs to check the operations as well as train the teachers there.
With our expanding presence in Thoothukudi district, we also had a good pool of computer teachers familiar with our curriculum and pedagogy in the Kayathar area. Kayathar being a small town in a largely rural area provided a good central place for us to start an RTC. Murugan our coordinator for the Pearl project was from Kayathar and knew all the schools and the place itself well. We were also able to identify two teachers Gayathri and Malarmathi interested in and had the ability to teach at the RTC.
In addition Gayathri, and Malarmathi also came to Thiruvallur for a week and spent the time visiting all the RTCs and the associated schools. They also participated in the in-person training sessions organised for them during the week.
Getting the RTC Ready
The Asha office in Kayathar is located in the bypass to the GST highway at the Rangarajan complex. Another bigger room suitable for the RTC was available in the same building which can comfortably accommodate even 40 students at a time. The rent was also reasonable. Bhaskar and I also got to see this place during our visit in late August. Further, this is also on the bus route. Therefore, students coming from further away will also be able to come to the RTC without any problems. We decided to take that place.
Painting work, Electrical work, funitures and computers – all needed to be arranged at the new office. We took possession of the office on Sept 24th and got the office ready on Oct 1st. The students started coming to the RTC and classes started in an informal way from Oct 3rd.
Reaching out to the Government Schools and Students
Our biggest success and our biggest problem at Kayathar have been in this area. When Bhaskar and I visited the project area in August we visited Veera Pandiya Kattabomman HSS (VPKBHSS) in Kayathar. This was the higher secondary school that the Kayathar RTC was going to be paired with. He was a big school with about 950 students. They assured us complete support. They had a huge auditorium that they were going to allow us to use.
In late Sept, our coordinator Murugan and our two teachers went canvassing to the government schools in that vicinity. In particular they went to VPKBHSS and GHSS North Ilanthakulam. We also provided information about our RTCs to many of the government aided schools in the area.
The response from the students was tremendous. In the first day some 240 students showed up at our RTC enquiring about how to join our courses. Given the demands of our course, the facilities we have the number of teachers, we have been limiting the number of children.
Our general strategy of teaching the basic digital literacy and basic programming at the school and focussing on more advanced courses at the centre would have served the purpose. However, we have been struggling to get the permission to send our teachers to the VPKBHSS. While the CEO of Thoothukudi is happy in principle with what we are doing, he is concerned that our taking classes in the school during school hour will encourage the school teachers to slack off. He is figuring out a way by which we can do this without affecting the utilisation of the teachers’ time at the school. We are awaiting the formal permission to begin operation at the school. In the meantime, the RTC is offering classes to the large number of students who are coming there on a regular basis. As a good number of students have learnt basic computer science at couple of our feeder middle schools, we are also able to start one programming batch directly at the RTC.
The new RTC at Kayathar was inaugurated on the 10th of Oct. The function was first held at the Kayathar RTC centre. Mr Ganesan. the Block Educational Officer for the Kayathar Block of Thoothukudi District was the chief guest for the function. Mr. Veeraraghavan, the GM Operations at IITM Pravartak Foundation, and Ms. Naveena Swamy from Maxelerator Foundation, a partner of Pravartak participated in the function. Asha was represented by coordinator Rajaraman and the steward for the project in Thoothukudi Bhaskar. Several teachers from VPKBHSS and the HMs from several schools that we have been working with over the years – esp Mr Thirupathy from PUMS Kumaragiri, Mr. Ganesan from PUPS Sivalingapuram and Mrs. Pechiammal from PUMS Kayathar South attended the function and spoke glowingly about Asha’s support to their schools. The BEO also talked about the work Asha has done in the block over the years and welcomed the work the RTC hopes to do. Other guests spoke of the importance of such a centre to the children in the school. One of the students from VPKBHSS gave the vote of thanks.
RTC in Operation
The RTC continued its operation after the inauguration function. The number of children coming in is continuing to be very high. We have restricted the number to about 40 on most of the days. One of the batches teaches programming. These are mostly students from Nagalapuram. Rest of the batches focuses on digital literacy. A total of 188 students have registered and are attending regularly. Here is the breakup of the students by school and classes.
VPKB HSS 30 Classes 1 to 5 8
GHSS Ayyanar Ootru 22 Classes 6 to 8 106
PUMS Kayathar 28 Classes 9/10 27
GHSS Vadakki Ilandhakulam 30 Classes 11/12 19
Other Govt middle schools 37 College 6
Govt Aided Schools 26
Another point to note is that as we have started this RTC in the middle of our usual semester which runs from July to Dec, we are planning to turn this into a longer semester that will go merge into the Jan to June semester.