If the breathtaking beauty of the landscape and the stunning visuals of Chhattisgarh leaves you spellbound, what leaves an indelible impression on your mind is when you see schools, snuggled in a small Adivasi tribal belt called Lohandiguda, in Bastar district, Chhattisgarh, going digital and how!
In about 40 schools in this region, children are learning with their newest friend and teacher – Alexa! Yes, this digital voice assistant has found her way to these schools, thanks to the efforts of the Assistant Collector Abinash Mishra. Ask him about the beginnings of this transformation and he says, “As a graduate of IIT, tech has always been of interest to me and so yes, I had heard a lot about Alexa. But in Bastar, this story begins with my meeting with Chandrashekhar Yadav, a Block Education Officer, who told me about an exhibition in a school where had kept an Alexa device and where he said a lot of people were showing great interest in it. That set me thinking that if so many adults are curious about it, kids, who by nature are curious, would definitely love it! And that’s how Alexa came knocking to Bastar schools. Today I am proud to say that Alexa is present in 40 schools as part of the Smart Classes project.”
“The teachers said that after Alexa came to the classroom, the class has seen improved attendance, children becoming more interactive and of course teachers too are loving this new medium of imparting training.”
Bringing Alexa to 40 schools was no mean task, and Abinash took up this unique project under the guidance of District Collector Ayyaj Tamboli and CEO zilla Parishad, Indrajeet Singh. He closely worked with the Chandrashekhar Yadav and Education department staff members - Amit Awasthi, Shyam Pandey, Saurabh Roy, Monika Uike and many others, who played a pivotal role to bring Alexa to schools.
So, when Alexa did eventually come to school, as was anticipated, she was a hit! “The teachers said that after Alexa came to the classroom, the class has seen improved attendance, children becoming more interactive and of course teachers too are loving this new medium of imparting training,” says Abinash, adding, “Our current District Collector Rajat Bansal is very enthusiastic about this Smart classes and digital teaching initiatives and wants to take this further to many more schools!”
Speaking to us about his one trip to the school after the Echo device was installed, the Asst Collector says, “It was so heartening to see them ask a variety of questions – from “how many teeth does an anaconda have?” to “How many seasons are there?” and yes also “who made you, Alexa?” The spirit of enquiry is what is dear to me. Often children are discouraged from asking too many questions in school. With Alexa, there is no such bar and this makes me extremely happy! In fact, the administration is now working on a model where they can take this model across all 400 schools in this region. The only problem we see is network issues and having trained teachers to impart this new style of education. But we are working on it.”
Being an IITian, Abinash feels the technology is a great leveler in education. “I truly believe that technology has a large role to play in education and tech augmentation in education is the future. It will bridge the divide that currently exists between urban and rural kids. With tech, no matter which area kids come from – they can be updated on the latest developments in the world of AI, IoT, Data Analytics etc. This will help them acquire the right skills for jobs. If we have a healthy mix of education via tech and through teachers I feel we can make a difference to children’s lives. Bastar is just the beginning!”