Creating a better world means overcoming a complex series of problems – from social equity to the environment, from animal welfare to poverty and famine. These age-old problems often need fresh perspectives and innovative solutions to take the next step forward, which is why education is so important. The next generation of minds needs to come from across the world, from girls as much as boys, which makes global access to quality education vital.
But how is it possible to deliver free, accessible, and effective education to rural areas and developing countries? Winner of the 2020 Global Teacher Prize, Ranjitsinh Disale, may have the answer. After facing numerous challenges as the new teacher in his village in Maharashtra, India, he developed an innovative approach to learning that uses existing tech to deliver astonishing results.
When Ranjitsinh first started teaching in Paritewadi village, in Maharashtra state, female attendance at his school reached as low as 2% of the eligible population. Teenage marriages were the norm, and even those who did manage to get to class found finishing the coursework extremely hard, as the textbooks were not in their local language, Kannada.
Unfortunately, the kinds of problems that he faced as a teacher are also extremely common to rural areas in developing countries:
- Sourcing adequate resources. A lack of budget, especially for government-run schools in rural areas, means that textbooks are scarce, out of date, uninspiring, or not appropriate for the local population. Facilities are also often dilapidated and not at all conducive to learning.
- Getting students to school. In agricultural areas or impoverished towns, children are often expected to help their parents earn an income, and therefore don’t have time or opportunity to get to class. Girls may also be expected to marry young and focus on household duties, making completing their education a near-impossible dream.
- Bridging distances between the classroom and its students. The large distances involved in travelling between and amongst rural communities make it challenging to both get to school, and engage with other classmates and study socially outside of the classroom.
Ranjitsinh’s first step was to translate the school’s textbooks into Kannada, so that his pupils could properly understand, and more easily absorb, the material.
His next step was to update the course material itself. Ranjitsinh saw low attendance levels and course completion as two sides of the same issue: namely, that the school and its mandated coursework simply wasn’t engaging enough to the students.
However, he also realised that his supplementary material, like the textbooks, would also eventually go out of date. To sidestep this problem, he turned to technology: instead of printing new books, he inserted QR codes within the existing textbooks, which when scanned would link the student to multimedia such as stories, poems, videos, and fun assignments, all in their native language.
This idea proved to be a masterstroke, making the school experience instantly more adaptable, personal, and much richer for the students. The new material could be updated or added to with ease, and without the need to change or reissue textbooks.
Combined with the social learning software Flipgrid, which facilitates video discussions between classmates, Ranjitsinh found that within a few short years of his hard work, his students were more engaged than ever before, parents saw the school as a much more valuable opportunity, and for once everyone was actually inspired to learn!
What Makes Ranjitsinh Disale’s Work So Exciting?
Nowadays, Ranjitsinh’s school in Paritewadi is recognised as the best in the district. There have been no teen marriages for a number of years, and 100% attendance from school-age girls, with 85% of them achieving A-grades in their yearly exams.
But Ranjitsinh’s work didn’t stop there. The use of QR codes in textbooks is such an elegant solution to a longstanding problem that it’s no surprise many other schools across India have adopted similar measures. In fact, after a successful state-wide implementation of the scheme, there are now plans in place for the NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training) to include QR codes in all future textbooks across the country.
Of course, it’s easy to see that this kind of application of technology has the potential to change education, and the future of so many young people, across the globe. It just goes to show that even apparently simple changes made by determined people like Ranjitsinh Disale can have an immense positive impact on our world.
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