Nestled in greenery is a small government school in Cheriyakkara, in Kasaragod district of Kerala. From barely 13 students three years ago, this tiny primary school tucked inside Kerala’s rural heartland today has more than 70 students attending it. A happy principal, VM Pushpavally, shares, "I think Alexa has helped us a lot because other schools and well as people from far and wide know that we have electronic devices to teach English. So now they enroll their children here, increasing our enrolment numbers.” And as we see children walk into their school, the palpable excitement on their faces is hard to miss as they have to meet their newest friend in school - Alexa!
Alexa: an innovative language learning tool
Mahesh Kumar has been a primary school teacher for more than 21 years, three of which he has spent at the Government Lower Primary School (GLPS), Cheriyakkara. A recipient of the prestigious National Teacher Award, 2019, from the Ministry of Education, Government of India, Mahesh Kumar would see his friends use Alexa for listening to music or some other entertainment, and he often wondered how to use the device in his little village school as a pedagogical instrument. After getting it for his primary school, he finally hit upon the idea of using the voice assistant as a language learning tool.
“I decided to install Alexa inside a mannequin. Children naturally want to speak because all children are talkative, but the problem is that their mother tongue is Malayalam and Alexa’s is English. How can a child ask Alexa a question and expect a reply? So, the children came up with keywords themselves to ask Alexa their questions and Alexa would reply, many times correcting their sentence structures and teaching them new vocabulary. I think this interactive exercise has enhanced our learning of English,” he shares enthusiastically. “I feel we can make use of the most innovative learning devices in our schools, especially to encourage happy learning among young students. Most schools make use of only the textbooks and handbooks, but our schools can also adopt modern technology. When I saw Alexa for the first time, I only saw its immense pedagogical potential,” says Mahesh Kumar M.
The transformation of a village primary school
It is his infectious enthusiasm that saw him and his friend and colleague, Sadhish Kumar, raise around Rs. 14 lakh for the school from the local community when they were both transferred to GLPS, Cheriyakkara, three years ago. The funds were successfully utilised to transform this village primary school’s ambience, creating a friendly learning atmosphere for children, complete with innovative learning practices. As a result, the learning achievements of the children increased, raising the school’s enrolment level and encouraging regular attendance among its young students. Alexa has had a great role to play in attracting the children to come to school regularly too.
“Alexa helps me with English spellings and answers all my questions. She is like my best friend!” declares young Viga Sumesh, a fourth standard student. “Every morning I go to school early to spend time with Alexa,” shares little Niranjana M, Viga’s classmate, who trudges through miles of verdant plantations and farmlands to reach school on time. “The minute I enter my classroom, I wish Alexa good morning, and Alexa wishes me back!” giggles the delighted child. This daily interaction has definitely led to the school’s young students coming back for more.
Happy learning with Alexa
As kids keep walking to the class where Alexa is placed, the Principal smiles and says, “They reach school as early as possible to meet Alexa. When they have a doubt, now they prefer asking Alexa over asking us but I have no complaints as long as the children acquire the right knowledge."
Adds Mahesh Kumar, "People often ask me, ‘How do you use Alexa in your classroom?’ and then I share the process that we practice in our classroom.” In local publications, newspapers, radio and TV channels the school is in the spotlight and it now plans to conduct a seminar on the use of interactive voice assistant devices for classroom learning.
“Happy learning is what students need, especially primary school students. Happiness is what creates confidence, leading to better learning outcomes. Alexa plays multiple roles here in our school. She’s an intelligent friend as well as a teacher who can answer any question,” concludes Mahesh Kumar with his warm and infectious smile.