For the past 15 years, Raghavendra Pratap Mishra has travelled across Uttar Pradesh’s Gonda district to discover and implement ways of improving access to education for visually impaired children. A special educator with Shikshit Yuva Sewa Samiti, Basti, an affiliate of the National Association For The Blind, Mishra takes keen interest in technology and how it can be an enabler, especially for children with disabilities.
Last year, Mishra joined an initiative by Amazon and National Association For The Blind to explore the use of Alexa as a teching aid to facilitate inclusive education at over 150 schools in Uttar Pradesh.
“It’s important for children with disabilities to believe that they are as capable as any other child in their classroom,” Mishra says. “Building this belief is central to our work, and as we took Alexa to Gonda’s government schools, we realised the important role voice AI could play here,” he adds.
‘Alexa didi is here’
Mishra is among six special educators who have been especially trained by the Amazon Alexa team on the optimal use of Alexa-enabled devices in a classroom setting. Like him, Gorakhpur resident Kalindi Sahni too has helped take the voice AI to schools in some of the remotest areas of India’s most populous state. Sahni, who has been working with NAB for the last four years, she says children in these areas had never seen technology like Alexa but they quickly adapted to it. “While the younger children ask Alexa for poems or math tables, children from older classes are keen to know about science,” she says. Alexa is a very good medium to access information in an easy and interactive way, especially for children with disabilities “They have named The children have now started to call me Alexa didi. Every time I enter the classroom, they say Alexa didi is here,” Sahni says with a smile.
Benefiting 80,000 students across UP
Each special educator is assigned multiple schools in the range of 2-50 km. Mishra presently works across 13, guiding teachers and students on how to use Alexa for learning purposes. One of the schools Sahni visits is in the Tinkonia forest where she has to cover a large stretch on foot through the woods. “For many, it is difficult to believe that a school could be present in such a remote spot.” But she isn’t complaining. “I love this work, and seeing smiles on the faces of the kids when they see Alexa didi approaching makes it all worth it,” she says. More than 80,000 children in government schools across UP enjoy interactive learning with voice AI.
Alexa, a friend in need
Mishra says the biggest challenge visually-impaired children face is that of isolation, as some of them have no friends to talk to. So even during vacations he takes his Echo device to the homes of some such children. “When I started introducing Alexa, I realised it is a great medium to drive away the loneliness of visually-impaired kids and can be a big support to them – from teaching them about daily living skills to their education. They can talk to Alexa, listen to stories, songs, jokes, and a lot more,” he says. When children ask Alexa for the time, weather or news, they end up becoming more aware of their environment.
Supplementing lessons with Alexa experiences
Over time, Mishra says that teachers have established their own ways to supplement lessons with Alexa experiences. “For instance, when teaching about the Constitution, the teachers encourage children to ask questions around how and when it was drafted,” he says. Alexa can be a medium to make education more interesting. “Children can listen to Akbar-Birbal stories, ask questions about math, general knowledge, English and Hindi. Alexa is also helping kids prepare for cultural programs at the school,” adds Kalindi.
“We want a world where a visually-impaired child stands shoulder to shoulder with classmates, and is a part of the modern world as anyone else,” says Mishra.
If you have a story of your own about how you use Alexa, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also use #AlexaStories when you share your experiences on social media. Learn more about how Alexa is helping people in different ways here. To find out about accessibility features available on Alexa, click here.