With the altitude in inhabited areas averaging at 12,500 feet, Ladakh is one of the remotest parts of India. Most of the villages in this region have just one school where children can study. Amazon has started to work with 17000 ft Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation with a goal to provide access and quality education to children from the remotest districts in the Indian Himalayan Region.
The project includes introducing school children to the Alexa voice service as an assistive aid for interactive learning. Amazon is providing 150 Alexa- enabled Echo smart speakers to 50 schools in the region, reaching over 3,000 students from Nursery to 8th standard. Amazon will also support the school with equipment required for sustained power and connectivity.
During Amazon’s Global Month of Volunteering, three members from the Alexa team travelled to schools located in Sanith and Likir villages of Leh district to initiate the project. They spent nine days setting up solar panels, sim-based WiFi routers and battery packs to help the students use Echo smart speakers. They also trained the teachers about different features of Alexa and organised multiple interactive sessions with students to familiarise them with the simplicity of just asking questions to Alexa and getting a response.
Radha Raj, Head of Operations at 17000 ft Foundation, who accompanied the volunteers, says, “English is not the primary language for children from this region and their inhibitions of conversing in the language is obvious. We are confident that the introduction of Alexa in the classroom will help improve their conversation and comprehension skills, and overall academics in the long run.” This ties well into the NGO's work in villages to enhance education, strengthen schools, and train and employ local youth in its education programs to enable them to contribute back to their villages.
Staying in remote villages and volunteering at the schools was life-changing for the Alexa volunteers. Gurtej Rehal, SDE with the Alexa India Tech Team adds, “The program gave me a totally different perspective of how our work can impact lives of people in the remotest parts of the world. I am now able to think better about aligning technology with different requirements and constraints like technology, location and regions”.
Savitha Koppa Lingaraj, program manager, Alexa Preview, says, “The students were initially very shy but warmed up to us in no time. After training and encouraging them to use Alexa, the vision of seeing them get excited every time Alexa responded to their questions will always remain in my memory.”
“One child pulled out his general knowledge book from his bag to cross-check if Alexa was answering his questions correctly. Every time Alexa’s answer matched with the lesson, his eyes lit up!” says Sarah Hussain, who is a project coordinator with the Alexa Community Programs team.
Since there are no digital facilities in 70% of the schools in Ladakh, for many of the students, the Echo smart speakers are the only access to technology. “This is the first time that I saw a device where I can interact with Alexa. I’m surprised to know that Alexa has so much knowledge and this will help me learn more,” says a student of class five. Another 8-year-old adds, “I love saying hi and good morning to Alexa. Hearing Alexa respond makes me smile! I also love to play the elephant sound on the device!”
“The Alexa program will be helpful for our students as they will get to know more about the world outside of our village,” says Stanzin Lobzang, who teaches at Sanith Govt Middle school, Khaltse block, Leh.
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