Rural Technology Centres – Feb 2023
IITM Pravartak and Asha launched the first two Rural Technology Centres back in Jan 2022 at Kanakamma Chathram and Seethanjeri in Thiruvallur District. The RTC started their second term and the next two RTCs were launched in July 2022 at Poondi and Kannigaiper. The fifth one opened in Kayathar in Oct 2022. Another RTC at Kalugumalai opened in Feb 2023. All these 6 RTCs completed the Feb-July 2023 term.
This report provides an update on their functioning as well as the opening of a new RTCs at Thomur. Here are photos from the Rural Technology Centres related to various points covered in this report.
General Points about RTCs
As we have implemented the RTCs at multiple locations, we have developed our understanding of how to implement these and refined the way these are functioning. Here are some general points regarding these.
Single Teacher Vs Two Teacher RTCs
Given the remoteness of the RTCs and given that they have to be open till 7:30 pm, we started with 2 teacher RTCs. However, as the teachers started getting comfortable with the RTCs both as a whole and with their specific RTC, teachers became more open to running single teacher RTCs. In the previous term Poondi functioned effectively as a single teacher RTC. This year Seethanjeri will also function as a single teacher RTC. The new RTC at Thomur will also be starting as a single teacher RTC.
Given the remoteness, there are constraints on the number of students we are able to enrol at the RTCs. The numbers are not high enough to warrant two teachers at the RTC often. Therefore, if we are able to ensure the safety of the teacher (and students), a single teacher RTC can be effective. The cost per student comes down significantly because of this.
Enrolment and Retention of Students
The RTCs in Thiruvallur are based in smaller and more remote villages. The enrolment is limited in these places. Even the higher secondary schools in these areas have strengths of under 500. The bus facilities are often not available after 6:00 pm. The students come from longer distances to the high/higher secondary schools. So the teachers have not been able to increase the enrolment much beyond about 80 students per term per RTC. At Kayathar and Kalugumalai, being small towns, there were many bigger schools within a couple of Kms from our RTCs. The enrolment was much higher.
However equally important is the ability to retain the enrolled students and ensure that they complete all the requirements of the course. At all the Thiruvallur schools, the retention ratio was about 2/3rds. Only about 2/3rds of the students who started the course went on to complete it. Our teachers are being flexible about the attendance rule etc. to try and improving the completion percentage. At the two centres in Thoothukudi, the retention rate is much lower (below 20%). We clearly need to do something about this. We are trying various strategies to achieve this.
Visiting Multiple High/Higher Secondary Schools
Typically, teachers from an RTC centre visited one government higher secondary school situated next to the centre. As the terms went by we realised that the schools were largely giving us only 6th to 9th std students and not 10th to 12th std students because of the board exam pressures. We also realised that the basic digital literacy and basic programming courses we had planned for these classes can easily be completed in one year or maximum two years with one class a week. But four years (6th to 9th stds), we didn’t even need the one class per week.
We therefore started sending our RTC teachers to multiple high/higher secondary schools in the vicinity of the centre. This achieved various things,
- Get more students to enrol at our RTCs as the children in the new schools also see what our teachers are teaching.
- As more of the students are already getting the basic courses taught to them at the school, more of the students are able to join the advanced courses.
- The cost per school student drops as we are able to cover more students at the schools.
We have started doing this at all the older RTCs in Thiruvallur.
Content Development and Training
On days when they are unable to visit the schools, for eg. when there are exams or functions in the schools, the teachers do content development work on the RTC currirulum. We have developed lesson plan for the two basic courses and the 3 advanced courses offered so far. The lesson plans for the advanced courses are still being completed.
New RTC at Thomur
With our acceptance of single teacher RTCs, we are able to serve even more remote villages with smaller feeder High/Higher Secondary School as well as fewer children. We have launched one such single teacher RTC at Thomur. Our new RTC teacher Vijitha will be managing the Thomur RTC on her own.
Asha has a long history with Thomur. We have been supporting the primary school at Thomur for more than 10 years. The high school and the primary school are located in the same campus. We were familiar with the teachers in the high school as well. Over the last year, we also started sending our trainer to this school to provide exposure to the children to computer science through the Amazon Explore program. Asha also ran a large mini-school at Thomur with over 60 children attending it. Further the other feeder schools to the Thomur high school have also been supported by Asha for more than 5 years. These include the primary schools at Greenvel Natham, Mettupalayam and Vallima Pettai. (Feeder schools are schools from which students progress to a particular higher-level educational institution).
We did minimal furniture work and we also for now took computers from the other RTCs to get this RTC started.
On 21 July, 2023, Friday, we had a small function which was attended by our Sangamam project coordinator Srinivasan and the lead teacher for RTCs Kumari. Teachers from the Govt High School Thomur also participated in the function. Many children who are going to be the ones using the RTC also participated in the function.
The RTC has had good enrolment. About 50% of the children come from the local village of Thomur. The remaining children come from Greenvel Natham, Mettupalayam, Vallima Pettai and Ramanjeri. There are only about 5 students from private schools coming to the RTC. 90+ students have enrolled for different batches. Children are registered for batches on all days. Given the conservative nature of the village, our teacher is having separate girls batch and boys’ batches!
On Aug 3rd, I visited this RTC. On that day the girls’ digital literacy batch was going on. I interacted with them a bit. Many of the children recognised me from my visits to their schools. Children were there from Greenvel Natham, Mettupalayam and Thomur itself. They seemed keen to learn computer science and seemed to be enjoying the time at the RTC.
See our report on the RTC Impressions Feb 2023 for details on the event. For the projects that were submitted for the Feb to July term, we conducted the RTC Impressions on Aug 5th. Here are photos from the RTC Impressions.
Projects and Competitions
- Presentation Competition for the Basic Digital Literacy projects.
- Programming Competition for the Basic Programming projects.
- Advanced Projects Competition for the project submissions from the other three courses. We grouped these together as each of these courses were taken only by about 10 students each and therefore there were fewer submissions.
We brought in judges will good experience from the Industry. The judges were,
- Karthik Manoj: He works for Amazon and had previously been a judge at the Asha Impressions competition held at the Amazon office.
- Stalin Anbalagan: Works for Qatar Gas as a Distributed Control System Specialist.
- Rajendra: Long time back (around 2005) he used to work for Asha maintaining our website etc. He now heads Android development for Damaka.
- Deepika R: She also works for Amazon as a developer. She was also a judge at the Asha Impressions competition held at the Amazon office.
- Dr Srividhya: She works for Pravartak as a project consultant and is involved in evaluating and defining many of the projects that are undertaken by them.
- Srikrishnan: He is the founder of Carizen Software that works on network security and other network related solutions for SMEs.
- Raja Chidambaram: Works for Cisco Systems and also teaches online courses for BITS Pilani.
- Rajkumar: He used to work as a software developer for Asha till couple of years back. He now works for Damaka.
- Maheswaran: He is also an experienced software developer working for Damaka.
The chief guest for the program was Prof Pijush Ghosh from the Applied Mechanics Dept at IIT Madras.
Venue and Organising
IITM Pravartak booked a hall in the IC & SR building in the IITM campus. This was a nice hall with a seating capacity of about 100. They also made another room next to it in the same building available to us for conducting some of the competitions. In the main hall we conducted the digital literacy competition. In the next room we conducted the other two competitions. Lunch was also provided in the dining room right in the IC&SR building.
This is the first time we are bringing young children long distance. Students from the selected teams in Kalugumalai and Kayathar RTCs came by overnight bus to Chennai and attended the RTC Impressions. They returned the same night on another overnight bus. We were very glad that the parents of these students allowed them to travel, esp. the girls! The children from Thiruvallur came by vans and mini-buses.
Competition and Results
Judges Dr. Srividhya and Srikrishnan who are coming to the RTC impressions again for the second time observed that there has been a clear growth in the quality of the programs delivered by the RTCs which was reflected in the quality of the projects done by them. The effort taken by the students and the extent of their learning was visible in the quality of the projects in all the three competitions. The selection of projects from all the RTCs as well as the final winning list indicated that all the RTCs were performing well. Here are the results from the 3 competitions.
|Fun zone||Seethanjery RTC||P. Vinoth Kumar|
|Spreadsheet||Poondi RTC||S. Ajay|
|Folk arts||Kalugumalai RTC||A. Prithish, K. Aravind, K. Howsika rajeswari.|
|Folk Dances of India||Kannigaipair RTC||V. Shalini|
|Programming (About scratch)||Poondi RTC||P. Dharani|
|Huddles platform||Poondi RTC||A. Dhanush|
|Dora the explorer||Kannigaipair RTC||V. Priskilla, S. Jayapriya, G. Abarna|
|Traffic signals||Kanakamma Chathram RTC (Physical computing)||S. Govardhan|
|Rocket||Kanakamma Chathram RTC (Physical computing)||A. Banu prasad|
|About cricket||Seethanjery RTC (Web Development)||A. Akash Kumar, P N. Vignesh|
Functioning of Existing RTCs
Broadly the RTCs were functioning as detailed in the previous reports. The following table captures the high-level details of the RTCs in the last term (Feb ’22 to July ’23).
|RTC||Teachers||Courses Offered Feb – Jul 23||School Details||Students Enrolled||Students Completed||Teams Selected for RTC Impressions|
|Kanakamma Chathiram (since Jan 22)||Eswari, Yamini (Lead Kumari also offered a course here)||Basic Digital Literacy, Basic Programming, Web Development, Physical Programming||GHSS Kanakamma Chathiram and GHSS Arcot Kuppam||81||55||10|
|Seethanjeri (since Jan 22)||Radha, Divya||Basic Digital Literacy, Basic Programming, Web Development||GHSS Seethanjeri, GHSS Pondavakkam||93||60||7|
|Kannigaiper (since July 22)||Nadhiya, Poonkodi||Basic Digital Literacy, Basic Programming, Web Development||GHSS Kannigaiper, GHS Athivakkam||74||48||7|
|Kayathar (since Oct 22)||Malarmathi, Gayathri||Basic Digital Literacy, Basic Programming||GHSS Ayyanar Ootru||278||45||3|
|Kalugumalai (since Feb 23)||Bhuvana, Vijayalakshmi||Basic Digital Literacy||GHSS Kalugumalai||303||37||3|
Here are some additional details.
- Seethanjeri will also be becoming a single teacher RTC. Divya will move on to a different role in the organisation.
- While the initial enthusiasm in students joining was very high at the Kayathar and Kalugumalai RTCs, a lot of the initially enrolled students didn’t have the interest to sustain them through to complete the course. We need to enrol students who have the interest to do the course and aren’t coming because either their teacher or parents asked them to.
RTCs in 2023 – Term 2
We are starting the process of developing a few courses which will be offered starting from the next term.
|Media Editing||This is offered as an advanced digital literacy course. There are many tools for editing photos, audio files, and videos, and for creating videos, collages, documents etc. These are found to be useful in a wide variety of careers. We hope to introduce students to these kinds of tools through free and online tools.|
|Intro to Robotics||In this course the students will learn how sensors and actuators can be used together to make a Robot perform something. We may use the Circuit Playground Express cards that we are currently using to teach physical programming to move the students to the next stage of building their own Robots.|
|Adult Digital Literacy||We have been thinking for a while about offering adult digital literacy courses also through our RTCs for the adults in the villages where these RTCs are located. This will include the kind of curriculum planned by Govt’s National Digital Literacy Mission but delivered in a much better way. It will include things like phone/internet security, search and get info on the Internet, UPI apps, ecommerce sites/apps, govt websites/apps, social media etc.|
Other than this the RTCs are continuing to run well. Students at the school at getting a good basic grounding on computer science and the children coming to the centre are getting access to world class resources, curriculum and education.