Isha Vidhya Collaboration Updates

Our collaboration with Isha Vidhya students is underway. We are still in the initial stages of setting things up. However, we do have some exciting updates!

Screenshot of the About page of the online portal

We have launched an online portal for these kids to track their activities in this class. Before I talk about what this portal is or what the motivations for setting it up are, I need to tell you a story. This story will tell you why this is necessary and how it came to be.

During the very early days of this initiative, I established that my objective was to empower the vast number of highly talented kids in rural India with educational opportunities that they deserved, but unfortunately couldn’t get access to. These kids were and still the primary target audience for Shuddhi Vidhya. And if we can reach these kids, then we can pretty much reach any child in India with what we can offer. It is a huge vision with a mammoth scale of impact and to add to it, I had zero experience in teaching or firsthand experience in the environment of my target audience. So just before 2019 I acquired authorisation from relevant educational authorities in Tamil Nadu Government to teach computer science to kids in rural schools for free. They granted permission to spend 1 hour/week at 5 different schools and I had the permission to do this for about 4 months . So during the early months of 2019 I personally visited kids aged 11 and 14 in about 5 rural government middle schools to teach them computer science for free. All of this is documented in more depth here.

Within the first few weeks of doing this I realised that traditional approaches to reaching these kids and getting them engaged was going to be futile. There were a few challenges. First was that I was no match for their energy levels. And given how I had only 1 hr/week there was no meaningful way for me to engage such a large number of students at a time. There were about 30 students in a class that I was handling at a time. Second was that these schools did not have adequate number of equipment for this task. Each school had about 3 or 4 computers on average for the entire school. And third and most important was that I had very limited amount of time to work with these kids. So I had to devise special approaches to effectively utilise my time with them.

I asked for 5 volunteers in each of these classes and when these 5 students volunteered, I asked the remaining students to pick one of them as their team leader. Once the teams were formed, I asked them to pick a name for their team. And soon we had 5 different teams in each school, each having its own leader and and identity. And all of it was done voluntarily. They were not divided by someone nor was their team name chosen for them. They did it all by themselves. The reason I mention this specifically is that because they did it all on their own, they now have a sense of identity with this team and they want to see it succeed.

The next thing I did was to stick a sheet on the wall of each class which listed these teams and their scores. I basically scored them for doing their homework. And getting them to do their homework was essentially the only way to get them to learn new things given that I only had 1 hr/week with them. And very soon after I set up this sheet, the kids started exhibiting more enthusiasm for what I had them do and also the team leaders had the ability to exercise their leadership skills and take initiative. The kids were eager to have their group have the top score. They were competing with other kids but it was a healthy and fun competition that got them engaged in the activity. Overall it was a very effective way to utilise the limited resources in a constructive fashion.

One of the biggest takeaways from that exercise was that the moment you put them in a group and offer them the opportunity to work with their friends and allow them to create an identity that they are excited to see succeed, they become naturally involved and excited to work towards doing classwork that they may not be excited about otherwise. And while they are competing with other students, putting them in groups means that they also have to help the students in their own team, so it brings an engaging balance between competition and collaboration.

So now, back to present moment, we have several hundred kids participating in this collaboration between Isha Vidhya and us. And they’re spread out across three locations with each student working from their home. And I’ve decided to apply some of the learning from the past in this situation. And the result is the portal — Isha Vidhya CS Leaderboard.

This is called the Isha Vidhya CS Leaderboard and it is basically a place for students to keep track of their team scores and also individual scores. The teams are listed on the home page, sorted with the highest scoring teams listed at the top. This is a great motivator for the kids to compete and bring their respective teams to the top. As mentioned earlier, we’re still in the very initial stages of setting things up, so there’s not much action at the moment. But in the coming months, we hope to witness increased engagement from these kids because of this.

And this is actually the very early prototype of a portal that we wish to have in which schools can sign up to allow their kids to participate. And the portal would have content across an array of subjects and allow the students to form teams and collaborate on projects. The primary motive for such a platform would be to encourage students to take initiative and express their creativity and gather an appetite for healthy competition while also learning the necessary skills for effective collaboration. We would place special emphasis on learning relevant skills, project-based learning and teamwork. They would be able to learn new things on this platform and also showcase their projects to the world. And they would be building their portfolio in the process, which would offer a glimpse of their skills, interests and experience.

As always we will be posting updates on progress as and when we have new information to share.

Update I — Some links originally in this post are now not available and have been removed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *